Concord school, students take a stand against bullying
It was surprising, they all said, that so many of them had been affected by a bully.
Nearly 100 of the 647 students at Concord Middle School said that at one point or another they had been afraid to come to school this year.
Over two and a half days last month, the students, faculty, and staff at the school, under the banner of “CMS Stands Together,’’ engaged in a student-led, largely homegrown curriculum about bullying.
The first surprise was an anonymous survey answered by the sixth- through eighth-graders that revealed bullies and their victims permeated the school. Many students admitted to being a bully as well as a victim.
The other surprise was how many students had signed up to help lead the program. Earlier this fall, English teacher Sarah Oelkers and guidance counselor Kim Cyr asked the eighth-grade classes for volunteers to plan a program that would take up the short week leading to Thanksgiving.
“Fifty-seven of us crammed into one classroom,’’ said eighth-grader Claire Schnadig.
“In midwinter last year, we decided to throw the curriculum out the window and involve the whole community, rather than just disperse antibullying lessons piecemeal,’’ said Lynn Beattie, the school’s principal.
They had Olympic athletes, coaches, a teen singing sensation, and a Boston rapper all appear on stage. They made a video in which students, either anonymously or on camera, told of their bad experiences. They made posters to hang on the walls. They wrote on inflated balloons what action they could take in the future and sent them aloft.
Classes were devoted to discussing such issues as what makes a leader; what makes a bully; what can the individual do; what steps a bystander should take.
Frank Novak, a former college and professional football coach who is now a motivational speaker, held a question-and-answer session with eighth-graders.
“We had great participation, particularly from boys,’’ said Beattie.
For two days, the students were divided into groups of 25 with two teachers.
“It was the same team the whole time, which allowed them to be open and honest,’’ said Oelkers.
Singer Hayley Reardon, a 15-year-old singer from Marblehead, performed her antibullying anthem “Stand Together.’’ Students also heard from Boston rapper Mojo B, formerly Brent Shuttleworth, who attended Concord public schools. He described how he had been bullied at Concord Middle School and how it affected him.
“I think the antibullying initiative is incredibly important for several reasons,’’ said the rapper. “It deepens and develops the relationship between the students by supporting the idea of an ‘upstander,’ someone who is able discourage bullying by standing up for others being bullied. And it allows students to see what other students experience, and places an emphasis on both understanding similarities and respecting differences.’’
Oelkers said the balloon ceremony brought tears to her eyes. Each student wrote “something they could do to be kind’’ on a balloon, read it, and let it go.
“In my 18 years as a teacher, this is the single most powerful teaching and learning experience I’ve been involved with,’’ said Oelkers.
Liz Welburn, Concord Middle School’s assistant principal, said the faculty gave the students the terminology, the language to deal with bullies.
Eighth-graders said the role of the bystander is key.
“The bystanders are the most important part because they can step in and stop the bully where the target can’t,’’ said eighth-grader Bryce Bjork.
In addition to Oelkers, other teachers who spearheaded the initiative were Kim Cyr, Kari Kibler, Dan Murphy, and Maria McDermott.
Over lunch, a group of eighth-graders shared their thoughts about the experience.
“It’s gone so well, better than I thought,’’ said Chris Sykes. “It’s the small things that add up. It may not seem like bullying but it is. A lot of us have been victims.’’
“This has allowed kids to take charge,’’ said Bjork.
Charlotte Wallis said lessons from the program will last all year.
“I thought two days could be depressing or cheesy,’’ said Margaret Gill. “But I like our approach.’’
“It’s not all about the victim,’’ said Sykes. “You have to look at the bully too. That person needs help. Sometimes the bully needs more help than the victim.’’
Ryan Hebert summed it up simply: “It worked.’’
Betsy Levinson can be reached at email@example.com.