By Toya Stewart Downey, March 6, 2015
In his physical education class last year Blake Stewart Ford witnessed something he didn’t like: students in his sixth grade class were making fun of another student.
“I thought it wasn’t fair that they were being mean to him for no reason,” said Blake, a 12-year-old who attends Francis Granger Middle School in Aurora, Il. His mom, Tawnya Stewart, is a Band member and his grandmother was Sheila Sutton, whose parents were George and Marion (Smith) Sutton.
Witnessing the bullying incident, and having been bullied a bit himself in the past, Blake decided something needed to be done and decided to form ABC – the Anti-bullying Club – with one of his friends.
The boys approached their school’s principal to ask her support. She immediately agreed and said such a club would be a great idea. The assistant principal joined the effort and the club, now approaching its first anniversary, came to fruition.
Blake, currently a seventh-grader, says he hopes the club can make a difference in the lives of his peers.
“The only rule we have is you can’t be a bully,” he said. “You don’t have to be an official member because our club welcomes everyone.”
The group initially began meeting weekly on Wednesdays, but now meets biweekly. On average about 10 students, boys and girls, attend the club meetings. They share inspirational quotes and stories with each other and talk about ways to prevent bullying at their school.
One of the first projects the club did was to begin working on a movie about different types of bullying behavior. The movie isn’t complete yet, but Blake hopes that will happen soon.
This year the club took their project to the school by inviting all students to contribute anti-bullying messages to a giant paper tree in the middle of the building’s hallway.
Each student was given a green leaf and was asked to write something on it to fill the branch of the tree with positive words and phrases. The response was overwhelming and participation was high.
“Teachers and students alike created messages and posted them,” said assistant principal Tim Lowe. “It was pretty cool.”
The tree is now completely covered with messages, he added.
Blake said the reason for the tree was “to raise more awareness about what we are doing and why,” he said.
Another project the club has undertaken is to share positive messages by writing kind words on scraps of paper and then putting them in other students’ lockers. The notes are anonymous, but are designed to spread joy to the receiver.
Blake said the members want to help students understand that they don’t have to be bullied and they don’t have to stand by while other students are bullied.
“We tell people to treat others the way they want to be treated,” he said. “We also tell people that if they see someone being bullied they can report it to an adult anonymously so they don’t feel like they will be threatened.”
Some of the tips the Anti-bullying Club offers to students are:
- Tell an adult if someone is bothering you
- Don’t let it continue
- Ignore the bully if you can
- Be nice to the person who is acting like a bully
- Try not to let it bother you, but always share your feelings with a parent or another trusted adult.
“Sometimes people don’t even know that they are being bullies, so sometimes you need to talk to them and tell them why what they are saying or doing is bothering you.”
If you suspect your child is being bullied, talk to the school leaders or other trusted adults. If you suspect your child is being a bully, talk to him or her. Seek outside counsel if necessary.
Bullying is a problem that happens at schools nationwide and can affect students of all walks of life.
Nay Ah Shing Principal Noah Johnson said there have bullying incidents at the school, but he has seen a decline since the beginning of the school year. It’s a trend he hopes will continue, he added.
Beginning next fall the Band-operated school will implement an anti-bullying program that was paid for through grant dollars. The staff has already been trained on how the program operates.
Nay Ah Shing also relies on its peacekeeper, talking circles and its staff to help prevent incidents of bullying, or as it looks for resolution to issues. An outside theater group presents plays that deal with topics such as bullying. This year the school staff created a suggestion box that allows students to share their ideas and concerns with the administrators. All of these are important steps to help prevent bullying and to make students feel safe as school, the principal said.
Blake’s mom, Tawnya, said he now has a heightened sense of awareness about bullying and treating people fairly.
“Because this effort comes from his heart I’m not sure if he’s totally aware of his impact on the school,” she said. “I’m very proud of his accomplishment and credit him with turning his idea into a reality.”
According to StopBullying.gov there is no single factor that puts a child at risk of being bullied, or bullying others. Bullying can happen anywhere and any time.
In general, children who are bullied have one or more of the following risk factors:
- Are perceived as different from their peers, such as being overweight or underweight, wearing glasses or different clothing, being new to a school, or being unable to afford what kids consider “cool”
- Are perceived as weak or unable to defend themselves
- Are depressed, anxious, or have low self esteem
- Are less popular than others and have few friends
- Do not get along well with others, are seen as annoying or provoking, or antagonize others for attention
It’s worth noting that even if a child has these risk factors, it doesn’t mean they will be bullied. Bullying can happen to anyone for any reason and it could be a single occurrence or could happen repeatedly.
There are two types of kids who are more likely to bully others:
- Some are well-connected to their peers, have social power, are overly concerned about their popularity, and like to dominate or be in charge of others.
- Others are more isolated from their peers and may be depressed or anxious, have low self esteem, be less involved in school, be easily pressured by peers, or not identify with the emotions or feelings of others.
Children who have these factors are also more likely to bully others:
- Are aggressive or easily frustrated
- Have less parental involvement or are having issues at home
- Think badly of others
- Have difficulty following rules
- View violence in a positive way
- Have friends who bully others
- Remember, those who bully others do not need to be stronger or bigger than those they bully. The power imbalance can come from a number of sources — popularity, strength, cognitive ability — and children who bully may have more than one of these characteristics.