Name calling, teasing, pushing, and shoving are just a part of the middle school experience, right?
The students and staff at Blaine Middle School don’t think it has to be.
On Monday, around 70 students from Blaine Middle School gathered together at the school’s fourth annual anti-bullying/positive climate retreat to share stories of how they’ve been bullied in the past and to learn about ways they can be instrumental in changing the way people are treated at their school.
“There are so many arenas now that kids have to communicate,” vice principal Molly Mitchell-Mumma said. “We really have to educate kids about what [bullying] is and empower them to take control of the situation.”
Bullying is defined as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated over time,” according to stopbullying.gov. Bullying encompasses actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, or intentionally excluding someone from a group. These actions can be done in person or through technological means, which is known as “cyberbullying.” Last week, a Canadian teen made international headlines after she committed suicide because of extensive bullying.
Blaine Middle School’s program focuses less on the bully, and more on what the bystander can do to change the atmosphere. “It all sparked with the book ‘The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander,’” Mitchell-Mumma said. “The idea of the bystander changed our language,” she said, noting that language choice was a key component to combatting bullying.
“Now we teach [students] how to report, what to say and how to help a friend,” Mitchell-Mumma said. “It takes them from helplessness to empowerment when they have the tools to deal with it, and we focus on what the bystander can do to help. If we can give these kids the tools, the bully won’t be so much of an issue because the bully really depends on that audience.”
The retreat offered students the opportunity to break into gender and grade groups so that they could network with other students and have support when they need it. The groups discussed how to recognize bullying, how to refuse it and how to report it. Students also participated in skits to further drive the message home.
Sixth-grader Katherine Andersen attended the retreat for the first time. She said she’s been bullied since kindergarten and that it’s even gone so far as other students slapping her in the face and punching her. She’s skeptical about what the program can accomplish.
But Dakota Littlefield, now a freshman at Blaine High School, feels the program has great potential. Littlefield has been a part of the initiative since its inception. She’s so passionate about what the program can do that she came back to mentor at this year’s event.
“I was really new when I came [to Blaine Middle School] in the sixth grade, and I didn’t know anyone. I was getting picked on really bad by a lot of kids – name calling and physical bullying – and then I came to the retreat,” she said. “It made me feel stronger. … If I didn’t do this, I wouldn’t be able to stand up to a bully and know what to do.”