STMS confronts bullying on campus
March 13, 2013
South Tahoe Middle School focuses on turning classrooms into tribes. That means creating a community agreement where students treat each other with mutual respect and tolerance, STMS seventh-grade teacher Jillian Raymond said.
Those tribes' agreements plus school assemblies and a policy that encourages students to connect with faculty are tools the middle school uses to prevent bullying, according to Raymond.
"Bullying does happen, but they feel that they're equipped with ways to stop it. Everyone on campus is an adult who can help you," she said. "It's building a common language."
Raymond assigned a task to her seventh-grade English Language Arts class earlier this month designed to help students add to the discussion about bullying and ways to prevent it. She asked a group of students to write an expository essay about ways STMS tries to stop bullying. The task was meant as preparation for a state writing test, but it also revealed some honest answers about daily life as a middle school student, she said.
One of the groups started their essay by outlining some of the consequences of intolerance.
"Bullying is a serious issue. Our school deals with a lot of bullying by having guest speakers and adults we trust. There are many reasons why kids are being bullied. It's because of peer pressure from other students and it's really bad. They also can cause kids to commit suicide," the group wrote.
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Another student group defined bullying as spreading rumors, inflicting peer pressure and physical fighting. They all agreed it happens frequently at the middle school but STMS helps them stay one step ahead. Guest speakers like freedom writer Manny Scott and frequent assemblies reinforce the importance of tolerance and focusing on their future outside of school, seventh-grader Axel Sorensen said.
And it helps to define what bullying means and show students that they're not alone, members of the class said.
"I know some people who are really mean but they don't always know that they're being mean. It helps to show them that they can hurt people," STMS student Mia Idzorek said Tuesday.
The school launched a new advisory class this school year that combines sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders in one peer group. The idea is to get students talking who otherwise would have passed each other silently in the halls, Raymond said.
"For a kid to some to school and learn, they need to feel safe. The big thing is for kids not to feel alone," Raymond said.
Assistant Principal Secretary Becky Fortier started a group about six years ago with a similar goal in mind. A student had come to her to say that he didn't want to be in a gang, but didn't know how to resist his peers' influence. So Fortier invited the boy and other gang members to join a group where they could talk about the divide and get some exposure to one another.
What started as a program to reconcile gang conflicts and divisions evolved into bimonthly lunch sessions where Fortier and Principal Secretary Judy Klingler encouraged eight-grade student representatives from STMS cliques to talk and listen to each other. If they could get students from groups throughout the school to talk to one another, accept their differences and also realize their similarities, it could help foster more toleranc e on campus. Fortier dubbed the band the "non-group" as a way to avoid labeling the students as a whole.
"We never said so-and-so is bullying. We just talked about how you treat people," Fortier said. "They feel like they need to belong."