One hundred eighth graders and leadership students listened as leadership teacher Camille Adana asked, “Cross the line if you think there are direct consequences for bullying at your school,” and watched as not a single person stepped forward.
For months, the leadership students have planned project STRIVE (Stand Together, Respect Individuality, Value Everyone), an anti-bullying campaign based in Cleveland’s feeder middle schools. On Feb. 19 and 24, both sophomore and junior/senior leadership classes visited Sellwood and Hosford, in hope of provoking thoughtful conversations and beginning to end bullying.
Before Cleveland students went to Sellwood and Hosford, the eighth graders were asked to complete a survey that depicted their individual bullying experiences. At Hosford, the surveys illustrated that 40 percent of eighth graders have been personally bullied or harassed, 30 percent have felt the urge to run away, skip school or fight due to bullying, and lastly 70 percent have witnessed bullying online. While at Sellwood, it was found that 36 percent have been bullied or harassed by their peers, 22.9 percent of the eighth graders have considered running away, fighting or skipping school, but only 15 percent are able to acknowledge the presence of bullying in their school. These statistics helped the leadership students to tailor their presentations for each school, depending on the current issues.
At each school, the eighth grade class was split into thirds, and each third then had a two-hour increment with the leadership classes and Adana. The STRIVE campaign began with a powerpoint presented by various leadership students.The powerpoint slides included a multitude of information: a dictionary definition of bullying, the direct, indirect, and passive actions that contribute to bullying, the effect of microaggressions and cyber bullying, tactics to protect yourself in bullying situations, statistics that were pertinent to each school based on the survey, as well as a video showing the process of STRIVE’s creation.
After the powerpoint, six personal stories were told by the leadership students, each encompassing a different bullying experience. These stories were primarily centered around sexual identity, socioeconomic status, learning disabilities, race, body image, and speech impediments.
Sethon Moore, a sophomore at Cleveland said, “I think STRIVE taught the kids that everyone has the same type of story and that they aren’t alone. Everyone has feelings and should be respected for those feelings.” Moore shared his own personal bullying experiences at both Sellwood and Hosford.
Following the stories and presentation, eighth graders and leadership students participated in a Cross the Line activity, led by Adana. All students stood silently around the rim of the middle school gym, each eighth grader next to a leadership student. As Adana read a series of 20 questions, beginning with the statement, “Cross the line if…” students stepped forward based on the pertinence of the question to them and their experiences. Leadership students felt it was powerful for the eighth graders to see the effects of bullying on their peers, along with onlooking administrators and teachers to experience student thoughts on the punishment, or lack there of it for bullying.
Eighth graders were then separated into 19 groups, with a ratio of two eighth graders to three leadership students. These groups focused on empathy and an understanding between one another. “I thought it was a lot better than other bullying things and I felt it really made you think about what has been said to you and most importantly what you say to others,” explained Joe Halsey, an eighth grader at Sellwood.
Questions were distributed to each group, and the leadership students led a discussion that incorporated opinions and stories from the eighth grade students. Throughout the day, leadership students were mandatory reporters, and this came into effect during the small group discussions as some eighth graders shared stories of abuse and self harm.
At Sellwood, to finish the two hours, Adana read personal bullying stories aloud pertaining to each leadership student. When their story was read, a leadership student would rise, as the eighth graders watched and discovered that all students have a bullying experience that continues to follow them. At Hosford, Adana allowed the eighth graders to share their own stories in front of leadership students and their classmates.
Monica Arnone, Cleveland’s student body president explained, “It took all us high schoolers a few years to realize what was happening to us in middle school, or gain the courage to tell our stories, but these kids went up in front of their peers and told stories of how they were bullied or they bullied others and how much they regretted it. It was just so amazing.”
Already, Adana has received the OK to return to both Sellwood and Hosford next year. Many eighth graders have contacted Adana and thanked her for the dedication of the leadership classes in making a change at middle schools. The Sellwood Newsletter, sent to all the parents in Sellwood’s community wrote, “Students really enjoyed their time with the high school students and got a lot of great information they can carry with them for the rest of this year, and as they enter high school.”
Now, Adana and leadership students must plan for STIVE to enter Cleveland. The student body will attend an anti-bullying assembly, and begin their journey to a more empathetic and safe community. Adana said in relation to the eighth grade presentations, “It was so hard and so stressful to do such a huge project, but so worth every minute of it after we got to the final product. No matter what, we impacted a large majority; I would say 95 percent of the eighth graders were affected positively.”
Adana is hopeful that this percent will carry over to Cleveland, and create a new generation free of bullying.