How do you stop, or at least slow down, bullying in grade schools?
A group of Kent State University students are trying to find that answer, and they're doing it via a partnership with Stanton Middle School to raise awareness of bullying among students and parents.
Robert Batyko, Megan Corder, Cindy Deng, Bethany Johnson and Shannen Laur, all public relations majors at Kent State, brought their campaign "Bullies to Buddies" to Stanton as part of the Public Relations Society of America’s Bateman Case Study Competition, a national competition between college students belonging to chapters of PRSA.
The students are working closely with faculty and staff at Stanton to teach seventh graders about bullying and its effects.
"We're trying to expand the conversation," Batyko said.
The Kent State students started with bullying as the topic chosen by PRSA, and as one of two teams from Kent State competing they were tasked with developing an awareness campaign and implementing it in the school.
Stanton students are surveyed on the campaign's effectiveness, and the before-and-after data will be used by the college students in their own evaluation of the campaign that will be submitted to PRSA judges in March.
The college students set three goals for the campaign:
- To simply increase awareness of bullying
- To improve awareness among parents that bullying happens
- And to encourage acts of kindness and "pay-it-forward" responses among students
"With the idea that if you say one nice thing to someone that's going to do a whole lot more good than something negative," Corder said.
Laur said they also want to encourage students who see acts of bullying to say something about it to an adult.
The Kent State students are working to accomplish all of this by distributing pamphlets with information about bullying to parents, creating a Facebook page with information and to facilitate discussion among parents, and through their lesson plans for the seventh graders.
They've also posted anti-bullying fliers on buses, where Stanton students have said a lot of bullying can happen.
Corder said they're finding instances of bullying where the school can't deal with it directly, such as online on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
"Cyber-bullying is the biggest one," Johnson said.
"These kids in seventh grade all have cell phones, all have Facebook pages," Batyko said.
Part of the awareness campaign includes spreading information about the fact school officials can address cyber-bullying in some ways.
The college students, who will remain in the classroom through February, said so far they've found the students at Stanton to be receptive and responsive to the campaign.
"Although we are adults, we're also at their level," Deng said.
Laurie Knuth, seventh-grade counselor at Stanton, said one of the exercises that was particularly effective involved having the students draw silhouettes of other students, write negative words inside the silhouettes and then rip up the outlines to get those negative words out and gone.
The students then did the same exercise but filled the silhouettes with positive words and compliments. The silhouettes were taped to walls throughout the building.
"So now there are these giant, life-like positive people all around the school," Knuth said.
The Stanton students also have taken to a part of the campaign that encourages them to do positive things or make positive comments about and for other students.
The campaign has reached every seventh grade student at Stanton, Knuth said.
"I think they've done a great job," she said. "If it changes one kid, it's working."