Understanding Bullies and Bullying
The computer lab was packed. Need in Deed Network member Angela Keeler, a 7th grade teacher at Gesu School in Philadelphia’s Strawberry Mansion neighborhood, had invited a colleague to bring in her students from nearby Mercy Vocational High School to talk about a pretty tough topic: bullying. The Mercy students had participated in the Anti-Defamation League’s No Place for Hate Campaign, and were eager to share their skills and knowledge with the younger students.
To kick off the discussion, the teachers asked the students what their experiences with bullying have been. Their honesty was striking. One 7th grader said that she has seen bullying but hasn’t intervened. “People bully each other to fit in, but I don’t say anything because I don’t want them to mess with me.” Many students nodded knowingly – 7th grade can certainly be a time when you just want to keep your head down and avoid attracting any kind of attention to your self.
“Last year, I bullied a kid because I wanted to fit in with the crowd. People said he was weird. One day he lost his temper and punched all the walls, and now he’s gone from our school,” a young man from Gesu said sheepishly. “Now I know it was wrong. I think he wasn’t such a bad kid.”
“I had a tight group of friends in elementary school, but then I lost all my friends in 4th grade because I got acne really bad. I was all alone until I got to Mercy and I met my friends – we’re all like family now, but I know how lonely and bad I felt when my old friends kicked me out because of how I looked,” one of the high school girls shared. “But I wouldn’t change what happened because of where I am now.”
“That’s right,” her friend agreed. “A challenge or a negative makes you who you are when you overcome it. Life is a journey and it changes.”
As the older students modeled for their younger peers how to engage in an open and honest conversation about a sensitive issue, the adults in the room seemed to melt into the background, interjecting a question or comment occasionally to guide the discussion or make a curriculum connection.
The students broke into small groups for further discussion. With the high school students listening, facilitating and recording the group’s responses, the younger students were serious and truthful, mirroring their older peers.
In summarizing why it is so important to be kind and to reach out to others who may be experiencing bullying, a Mercy student said just before the group work ended for the day, “We never know what people go home to. We have to talk to our friends – it always takes that one person to stand up and say something.”
Given all this mixed group of students covered in just one morning together, we can’t wait to see what they achieve throughout the year.