When Joanne Jacobson heard Jamie Nabozny speak to Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED) participants about his experiences of being bullied as a student in Wisconsin, something he said resonated with her.
Nabozny said if adults could get children who see bullying (the bystanders) to stand up and say that bullying behavior is not OK, a percentage of bullying could be stopped.
Jacobson, a first-grade teacher at Rum River Elementary School, brought this information back to the school’s 11-member Diversity Committee. Everyone jumped on board with finding a way to reach out to bystanders.
“In our conversation, someone said it’s like there should be no middle line,” Jacobson said. “No middle line means that kids have to decide whose side they are on. If they don’t say anything they are on the side of the bully. If they stand up and say something, they are on the side of the student being bullied.
“This summer we came up with ideas of how to educate our students on standing up for kids who are being bullied at school.”
Principal Deb Shepard is on board with No Middle Line. While she likes the idea of bystanders helping a student get out of a situation where he or she is being bullied because it gives the bully less power, she also makes the point that students should never get into a confrontation with a bully.
“Adults will deal with the bully, we don’t expect kids to do that,” she said. “We hope that if kids hear from their peers that bullying is not OK, they will stop the behavior. When kids say nothing they are supporting the bully.”
One very visible aspect of the anti-bullying program is the brightly colored “No Middle Line” T-shirts that were sold at the school’s open house. In an effort to show school unity against bullying, students and staff will wear the T-shirts every other Friday. The school worked with a former parent who owns a business that prints T-shirts and was able to get the shirts at cost for $5. Families could also donate to a scholarship fund to help students buy a T-shirt who might otherwise not be able to purchase a T-shirt.
Principal Deb Shepard said all staff have the T-shirts and Jacobson is interested in exploring if bus drivers can wear them too. The school will also order “No Middle Line” wrist bands and plans are in the works for a school poster contest with the theme.
Students were also introduced to the new anti-bullying effort when Shepard was videotaped reading “How Full Is Your Bucket,” a book by Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton, and the video was broadcast school wide.
“The focus of the book is how it makes you feel when people are complimentary and nice to you, that’s when the bucket gets full,” Shepard said. “But when someone is mean to you, your bucket is empty and you don’t feel so great.
“We want to focus on positive behavior to eliminate bullying. I had some students with me in the media center when I was reading the book. After I read the book they told me they liked my shoes and my necklace. My bucket was getting filled!”
In an effort to bring students together, classrooms will be “buddied up.” Third-, fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms will be buddied with first-, second- and third-grade classrooms.
“They will meet a couple of times a month to build camaraderie between younger and older students,” Jacobson said. “Sometimes they will just read together, other times we’ll have anti-bullying activities for them.
“We are also looking at having the older students do vignettes and then asking the younger students how they would respond in a situation.”
Work is also being done by staff to write a kid-friendly definition of what bullying is. That information will be posted in classrooms, included in newsletters and known throughout the school.
Jacobson said the Diversity Committee has great ideas and will keep No Middle Line going throughout the school year.
“It’s great to keep the conversation going and that we’ll have common terminology for bullying,” Jacobson said. “We also want to keep the emphasis on kindness. We know we all do that, but now it will be more intentional.”
Shepherd said there is not a large bullying problem at Rum River, but she doesn’t want even one student bullied.
“If one student is bullied and afraid that is one student too many,” Shepherd said. “Bullying is not a huge problem at Rum River, but if you are the person being bullied, it’s a huge problem to that person.”
So far, feedback on No Middle Ground has been positive. The first 500 T-shirts were sold and more are on order. Staff will also have the option to purchase sweatshirts.
“I’m really excited about this, it’s been on my mind for a while,” Jacobson said. “I thought this could be a big undertaking but after hearing Jamie speak I just knew it was something we had to do.”