On Jan. 16, students from 14 Valley schools gathered at Gilbert’s Higley Center for the Performing Arts for the Building Bridges program to fight bullying in schools. In May of last year, Kyrene Altadeña Middle School students participated in the Bully Academy Webquest, an online course involving reading articles, watching videos about bullying and most importantly, talking about it. After all, this is about how young people learn to express their emotions. In November 2011, students from Chandler’s Tarwater Elementary School spent a day focused on kindness, respect, and friendship.
These are just some of the examples of students, schools, teachers, and parents across the East Valley are taking a stand against bullying. Best of all, this is a call to action that comes from the students themselves.
Adults can’t have all the answers: this is the hard, uneven, crucial internal work where students learn to police their own words and each other. Statistics on bullying are sobering: 28 percent of Arizona students report they have been bullied, including 40 percent of seventh and eighth graders. My foundation is partnering with the outstanding First Lady of Phoenix, Nicole Stanton, dedicated to inspiring cultures of leadership, respect and diversity in schools that unlock each student’s unique creativity and impact.
My work began with students disabled with Cerebral Palsy; launching Americorps for President Clinton and the Points of Light for President George H.W. Bush helped me see that we all have to transcend some disabling physical, mental or emotional condition as part of our life’s purpose. I have witnessed thousands of students mentored and trained in leadership over the past 17 years in the Valley (www.nickloweryfoundation.org). Bullies attempt to disable a young person’s own leadership, creativity and spirit to rise above challenges. Together, this entire community won’t let that happen.
Experts say that just one caring adult can help make a change to a bullied victim: someone to listen to and support those seeking help. Instead of telling a child to simply ignore a bully, adults are asked to take a more hands-on approach by creating safe work environments to help victims of bullying avoid falling behind in classes, missing school, or even dropping out. Programs are being created everyday to help school administrators, parents, coaches, educators and students learn more about bullying and how to prevent it. All of us must get on the same page. First Lady Stanton’s Stop Bullying AZ Initiative is working district by district to help educators evaluate programs that follow the specific criteria of:
• Following a written curriculum;
• Procedures for training staff, faculty and students in the curriculum;
• Treating bullying as a problem for the entire school community, and makes stopping it everyone’s responsibility;
• Establishing and promoting clear, written guidelines for what staff, faculty, victims and bystanders are expected to do when they encounter bullying;
• Requiring schools to make formal links to mental health services for bullies, victims and bystanders;
• Documenting bullying incidents and track them over time; and
• Reporting bullying incidents to governing bodies and to the parents and caregivers of bullies, victims and by-standers.
Sports Role Models
Our focus is about aligning focus and passion to achieve purpose, creating leadership cultures among varsity football players so they are known not for horrendous stories like the rape of underage girls in Steubenville, Ohio, and Torrington, Conn., but more for remarkable stories like the Queen Creek High School football team. They stood up for Chy Johnson, a developmentally disabled student being relentlessly bullied, and shut down the bullying of marginalized students at their school. Queen Creek players’ lessons may have inspired them to the only undefeated season in the state. At their wwards banquet, I said, without hesitation, that I have never witnessed a more mature, courageous group of young adults. More recently, I spoke to kindergarten through eighth-grade students at Gilbert’s Eduprize School about bullying, that a young person’s most important skill is his or her ability to understand and communicate in a healthy way.
If you think bullying ends in school, think again. Duke University reports that the affects of bullying follow a child well into their adulthood and could lead psychologically damaging disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
The Nick Lowery Youth Foundation is hosting a major charity event, “Imagine – 100 Faces 2013 Benefit Concert,” in Paradise Valley to help raise awareness of bullying and funding for the cause. Guests will include four-time World Boxing Champion Evander Holyfield; new Arizona Cardinals coach, Bruce Arians; legendary singer and Nobel Prize finalist Yank Barry; Raiders Super Bowl quarterback Kenny Stabler, and NFL rushing champion Christian Okoye. The benefit will be held 6 p.m. April 4.