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A new school year  is sure to bring new faces and new friends together here at HOLA.  But until students know each other, it is natural for them to gravitate towards familiar faces – people they already know.  While that isn’t necessarily overt bullying, it can be contribute to feelings being hurt or creating an uncomfortable environment.  To squash all those potential negative outcomes, our Bridges’ teachers begin every year with a workshop about the importance of being intentionally inclusive and kind to one another.  Emmanuel Martinez, Bridges middle school teacher, says that most of all the bullying that occurs is coincidentally, unintentional.

“It happens usually just the first few weeks of the year, because our kids come from so many different schools.  So this workshop is about raising awareness about the ways our words, actions and clique-y-ness can hurt others.

In the past, Emmanuel and the other teachers have prepared the workshops with scenarios and exercises, in case their kids are feeling quiet.  However this time,  they decided to try a different approach,  empowering the students by relying on them to teach everyone about the importance of exhibiting anti-bullying behavior.  The results were impressive, to say the least.

“They stop_start copy_0really opened up, and shared so much with each other.  Sometimes these workshops can be tedious for our kids who haven’t experienced any bullying themselves, but having their friends open up helped them to stay engaged and recognize the importance of the issue.”

The teachers began the workshop by sharing their own experiences with bullying, helping to shape a comfortable environment where it felt safe to be vulnerable.

Emmanuel retells, “I shared my personal story of being bullied as a kid for being gay.  I want to teach our kids honesty about what groups they belong to, because I had teachers who I knew were gay but who never came out and said it, and that doesn’t create openness and acceptance.  The environment we work to create at HOLA is positive and affirming, and this workshop has helped build that.”

Alexa, a sixth grader, says she thinks it’s really important that Bridges talked about bullying.

“Bystanders need to do something about bullying when they see it, and we shouldn’t bully people. It’s just not right. Bullies just want attention but they should be trying to get it in better ways, like doing something kind. A lot of the bullying I see is verbal. “You’re too fat, you’re too skinny.” But it doesn’t matter what you look like.”

Alexa adds, “It happens way too much. It’s such a serious issue. Sometimes people pick on me because I’m weird.  But one time I saw a YouTube comment that described W.E.I.R.D. as wonderful, exciting, interesting, and really different. I liked that.”

not-in-our-schoolIn the end, the students all walked away with the message “Let’s be leaders, not bullies.”  And now, these middle schoolers can feel safe and confident to ask questions, learn more, grow greater while making new friends.
For students, parents, and educators interested in anti-bullying, click here.

For students who are experiencing bullying, click here (for English) and here (for Spanish) to access the bullying or hazing report form.


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