A Focus On Bullying Prevention and Intervention in Elkhart Community Schools

Mary Yoder HolsoppleBy Mary Yoder Holsopple

At Elkhart Community Schools in Elkhart, Indiana we have been focusing on bullying prevention and intervention for eleven years. We have learned a few things over that time. One of them is the importance of student involvement in the effort.

Here are a few examples:

In our high schools and middle schools we have student-led clubs that focus on school climate. Every fall we hold a day-long youth summit in which invited students (each school has the leeway to decide who to send) are interactively involved in examining what is bullying and their complicity in the mistreatment of others. The day gets more intense as it progresses and ends with a challenge to become part of the change in their school by joining the club (we call it Move2Stand because we utilize the trainers from STARS Nashville for the youth summits). These clubs proactively hold kindness campaigns, organize mix-it-up at lunch days, provide community service—both in their school and in the broader community—and provide support and assistance to their peers who may be (or are potentially being) mistreated. They sit with students at lunch who often sit alone. They walk to class with students who are most likely to be bullied. They spread kindness and sprinkle happiness wherever they go.

Another way we involve students is by holding the annual artwork contest for bookmarks. All 13,000 Elkhart Community Schools students are invited to submit artwork. We select one to represent the primary grades, another for upper elementary, and another for secondary. While the artwork graces the front of the bookmark, the back has our anti-bullying rules and information about accessing our anonymous reporting system, in addition to the photo of the artist. A local bank generously prints a bookmark for each of our students. We continue to be surprised at how much our students anticipate the bookmarks, given the trend to move toward online resources.

Not to be overlooked is the contribution made by our Graphic Design students at the Elkhart Area Career Center. Every year they provide a poster campaign for our anti-bullying efforts. After instruction on the difference between bullying and conflict, ECS data on bullying, and information about social norming, the students design a series of posters. They are split into teams of four to work on this project. In addition to bullying and social norming, the students also learn about designing a public service announcement campaign, including working together as a team. Multiple copies of the winning campaign is printed and given to the schools to enhance our prevention efforts. The design students are quite creative and the posters are well-received in the schools.

The second year Graphic Design students create an annual school calendar on the theme “spread kindness.” Artwork for the calendar is again from an art contest open to all ECS students. This year we had over 300 students submit artwork. Twelve are selected for each month of the calendar.  In addition, the calendar has a clear definition of bullying and conflict; information on how to access our anonymous reporting system; all school dates, including testing; and parent tips for each month. Our local Education Foundation assists with distribution of the calendar to our parents and into the community.

These are just a few of the ways our students have been involved in our prevention efforts. I am always happy to entertain questions—mholsopple@elkhart.k12.in.us.

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