October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and City Year Tulsa is on the front lines of the bullying battleground in the Tulsa Public Schools. Our AmeriCorps members arm our students with the skills to to help build empathy, inclusion, and teamwork. Starting at a young age, students learn that inaction is never an option when they observe bullying. We speak up, and support each other. City Year Tulsa is passionate about creating a positive environment so all students feel safe and understood. In the blog below, one of our AmeriCorps members describes her experience. 

My name is Jessica Castro, and I proudly serve as a 5th grade AmeriCorps member at Kendall-Whittier Elementary School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I am 18 years old, and I was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. Within my first few months of service, I noticed that bullying is a prominent issue that students are facing on a daily basis. As an AmeriCorps member, I’ve been able to witness this first hand.

Social media glorifies being “savage,” which the Urban Dictionary defines as something cool, violent, and hardcore. The students use this “savage” behavior in their actions. They constantly try to out-do each other with insults, types of pencils they use, erasers, their friends, and believe it or not, who they “like” and/or “date” in the 5th grade. However, they don’t realize this behavior hurts other students.

For example:

  • Students tease one another by pointing at each other’s shoes and saying “what are those?” I explain that this joke hurts student’s feelings because not all of their peers have access to new brand name shoes. Also, I explained how their peers feel ashamed and excluded when their friends constantly point out their shoes.
  • My 5th graders tend to touch or take each other’s belongings without the owner’s permission, and my students have trouble understanding why it is not okay. I’ve explained that taking another person’s belongings makes them feel unsafe and attacked. Although it is a material item, they can’t trust their peers to respect their personal space and belongings.
  • The 5th grade girls spread rumors about one another, which continuously starts conflict. I explain to my girls that spreading rumors about each other makes the victim feel powerless and unheard when no one believes their side of the story.

Among the 5th graders, the majority of the emotional bullying tends to occur in the girls while the boys physically bully one another. This showed me how societal gender norms even effect the type of bullying that occurs in today’s youth.

Students don’t always realize when they are hurting other students, whether it be emotionally or physically. To appropriately tackle the problem, we must first help the students understand why their behavior is incorrect. This is necessary because at the age of 10 or 11 our students want to constantly know “why.” If we give our students a viable reason as to why their behavior is unacceptable, then we are reducing the chance of them doing it again.

By giving explanations and helping them understand, we can then be reassured that if the behavior continues it is not due to lack or understanding of right or wrong, but the lack of choosing what is right.

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