By Astha Agarwal,
More students and teachers participated in the Oct. 4 anti-bullying advisory than they did in a similar session last year.
Each of the 68 advisories Denebola visited during South’s anti-bullying session during an hour-long advisory period Oct. 4 was actively participating in a discussion surrounding anti-bullying. Last March, eight of the 17 advisories Denebola visited during an anti-bullying period neglected to participate in the anti-bullying curriculum or did not address anti-bullying at all.
Collaboration between North and South faculty over the summer in an effort to improve current lessons and practices may have contributed to increased participation in anti-bullying at South, faculty said.
“We [focused] on [creating] a respectful, caring community and shifting the school climate from a silent majority to a caring majority,” Cutler Housemaster Donna Gordon said. “The emphasis of our work was on assisting teachers with their lessons and providing appropriate online materials, strategies and resources.”
South’s anti-bullying committee members were Rich Catrambone, Kristen Beaupre, Josepha Blocker, Donna Gordon, Alex Kaplan, and Lily Eng Shine.
Some teachers said they chose to deviate from the school’s standard curriculum and have their own discussions around anti-bullying.
“They have done this for so long, over so many years, that it’s become tedious,” football coach and special education teacher Ted Dalicandro said. “Having a discussion, especially with freshmen, [works better].”
Science teacher Alan Crosby encouraged the interaction between diverse groups of students in his junior advisory. His students broke into small groups in which they answered each other’s questions and discussed possible solutions to bullying; afterwards they reconvened and each group presented their findings to the class.
“This was a strong activity because I could get them to work together, which was [more effective] than individual work,” Crosby said. “I made sure there was a boy and a girl in each group, so I said ‘Don’t work with just your friends, work with [everyone].’”
“I felt that this was an activity that kids could really connect with, and it really touched home,” he said. “I think this is an activity they did pretty well with.”
Students said they were able to mold the activity to benefit them most in terms of the grade level they were in and the issues that were relevant to them.
“As seniors, we talked about equipping ourselves with a set of skills to help us deal with unpredictable situations in the real world,” senior Maya Alper said.
Advisory coordinator Shauna Pellauer feels that student response to the anti-bullying curriculum has become more favorable since last year.
“[During] the first year of advisory trainings, [my students] were definitely not as invested in having the conversations because they felt as if none of this behavior happened at South,” Pellauer said. “It’s difficult to convince students that behavior they perceive as normal [...] can actually be forms of bullying. No one wants to be called a ‘bully.’”
“My first lesson that year, one advisory student who was normally quite agreeable and easygoing became almost irate that we were having this discussion at all. This year, when I walked around the school during the first advisory lesson, I saw that students and faculty were focused. There were some nervous giggles here and there, but that’s to be expected.”
Principal Joel Stembridge noted that the session’s only weakness may have been that it was too short. “I noticed throughout the period [that] it seemed that even by the end, the conversation could have gone longer in many, many cases,” Stembridge said. “That to me was a sign that we’re moving in the right direction.”
Massachusetts state law mandates that all schools teach students how to take action regarding bullying and prevention, using a current and relevant curriculum. Additionally, it requires all faculty and staff who interact with students to be trained in anti-bullying each year.
“[It is] required by law, but if we’re going to do something, we might as well do it well,” Stembridge said. “I hope it continues to feel good to students that their conversations are more authentic, and I think [that is due in] large part to [...] the student feedback we’ve had.”
Some students, though, believe that despite increased participation, the effectiveness of the anti-bullying program as well as how seriously some people take it remain as issues.
Senior Elena Byun said that hearing stories from people who have experienced bullying firsthand and could explain its impact on victims would resonate with students more.
“If we had something like the One School, One Book [for the anti-bullying program] with panels and hear real people talk about what happened to them or their child, it would mean more to us,” Byun said.
Still, Pellauer feels that South’s current anti-bullying program can bring change to the school. “I hope that students stay open-minded during these lessons,” Pellauer said. “We understand that these discussions can seem awkward, but we owe it to the larger community to do what we can to make our school culture as positive as it can be.”