Empowering Kids to Be the Change
The first word a middle school counsellor, winner of the 2015 United Against Bullying (UAB) grant, said in a recent interview was gratitude – for the impact the grant made possible in the school and the larger community. Her story will inspire you.
Sabrina Barnes started an anti-bullying club three years ago, the W.R.A.T. Pack, creating a World of Respect, Acceptance and Tolerance for all. The Club started with only a handful of students, but grew rapidly once Mrs. Barnes encouraged the students to focus on kindness, compassion and what they wanted to see. Today there are 50-70 active club members.
The WRAT Pack meets weekly to identify problems and find solutions, discuss how to handle situations, talk about any issue they’re passionate about, work on leadership skills, make crafts and write notes. They are the change they want to see.
Be the change you wish to see in the world. – Mahatma Gandhi
Kids listen to peers before they listen to adults. When one student stands up and says we respect each other, this makes more difference than all the adults put together. Teaching kids compassion and empathy, how their actions and words impact others, stops bullying.
The Club outgrew two classrooms and now meet during lunch in the art department. Mrs. Barnes says, “the whole key is motivating the students, nurturing their enthusiasm and then letting them take over.”
Imagine If Everyone Did One of These
The WRAT Pack has an impressive list of ongoing projects that any school community could do to promote kindness and compassion:
- Random acts of kindness
- Decorating lockers (favorite activity): The kids keep a ‘watch list’ of students who don’t appear happy, look like they need a friend, sit alone at lunch or are at risk of being bullied. The Club secretly makes signs, ribbons and stickers and decorate lockers with inspirational messages. They’ve even decorated teacher’s classroom doors.
- Welcome bags for new students: The Club decorates bags and fills them with handwritten welcome notes, contact info, info about clubs, map of the school, an anti-bullying brochure, snack and pencils. A club member delivers the bag to the new student.
- Orientation for 5th graders coming in grade 6: The Club meets to discuss common questions, best answers and plan a social event. The WRAT Pack leads the orientation.
- Clothes Closet: The Club organizes a clothes drive twice a year. Today the Clothes Closet is thriving and even collects holiday wear and semi-formals for school dances.
- Eyes and ears for administration: Most bullying happens in the cafeteria, the bus and the locker rooms. The Club members report any bullying they see and offer support to students.
- Community initiatives: Nursing homes have been given paper flowers and corsages at Easter and at other times, the gift of manicures. Members also organize events for families in need, the annual Blue Pinkie Pledges event (from Secret Deodorant Co.) and the National Anti-Bullying Month in October.
School Bus Program Possible with the UAB Grant Money
The UAB grant money was used to help educate bus drivers and transportation personnel on the impact of bullying. It provides incentives and recognition for students who demonstrate respect and compassion and take a stand against bullying on the bus.
The WRAT Pack created a “Student of Character” (SOC) and “Very Important Driver” (VID) quarterly event. Each bus driver nominates a student who is cooperative, respectful, kind and compassionate to fellow students and adults. Similarly, students and parents nominate a bus driver for his or her efforts to build positive relationships with students.
The Club members decorate goodie bags for bus drivers, adding handwritten essays on bullying and thank you notes reminding the drivers how important their role is at the start and the end of each students’ day. These gifts were presented to the drivers at a Bus Driver Staff Development event where the Club was invited by the Transportation Director.
Each quarter there’s a reception for the SOC and VID winners where they’re presented with a certificate and a gift card. The nominators are asked to give specific feedback when presenting, so others can emulate the same behaviors. Pictures of the winners are published in the local newspaper, extending the program reach to the entire community.
Mrs. Barnes says, “there is no doubt that these individuals are serving as positive role models for their peers and helping to ensure the ride to school and back home is both positive and safe.”
Kindness Empowers Everyone
The WRAT Pack Club has no grade requirements and no restrictions. It is open to everyone, creating an eclectic group of students where everyone has an equal voice and a sense of belonging. The only criterion is to sign a commitment to positive behavior and have parents and a teacher sign off on the pledge.
The WRAT Pack is making a mark in the community. The students presented at a Virginia Department of Criminal Justice (VDCJS) Conference – the 2015 Virginia School and Campus Safety Training Forum, and at the 2014 Virginia School Board Association Annual Conference. They were also interviewed by PBS, who made a video of the kid’s decorating a locker for ‘Education Now.’
The biggest gift resulting from Sabrina Barnes’ passion to stop bullying is the impact on the Club members themselves. Every act of kindness empowers the WRAT Pack as leaders and inspires self-confidence, compassion and love for themselves and for others at school, on the school bus and in the community. The Club stays true to its logo – they are the change in action.
To learn more about the United Against Bullying Grant and how you can apply to start an anti-bullying program or kindness initiative in your school or community group, please see: www.unitedagainstbullying.net/blog/48-how-to-get-a-grant-to-fund-your-anti-bullying-programs