The mission of Penquis’ Rape Response Services is to offer hope, support, and advocacy to victims and people affected by sexual assault and stalking, to provide education about sexual violence, and to promote prevention. We provide age-appropriate school-based education and primary prevention programming.
This summer, I’ve been working with a group of 3rd-5th graders at a lunch program. We’ve done activities about hurtful words, friendship, and bullying. During our most recent session, I had what I thought was a great object lesson on bullying and the power of our words. We talked a bit about what bullying is, and I was prepared to transition to my ‘rocks in a back pack’ activity, when a sweet little girl asked if they could all share personal stories about being bullied. I said “sure!” even though I was a little nervous that this would derail my lesson plan. I thought maybe a couple of kids would share stories, but to my surprise, nearly every child shared an extremely personal story about being bullied because of their skin color, their gender, their family situation, or for some other reason.
“Mackenzie,” the girl who asked if they could all share stories, bravely shared her story first. She talked about how kids made her feel bad because she has cerebral palsy and has to wear a leg brace. She said that kids don’t like to sit with her on the bus or at lunch, and that she doesn’t get picked in gym class because she can’t play sports like the others. She explained that it hurts that people see her disability before they see her. I felt so sad for this sweet, beautiful little girl, I just had to tell her how I noticed how much her smile lit up the room, how brave she was for telling her story, and that I saw that she is a fierce friend to many of the kids in the group. She smiled from within and thanked me for my compliment.
One by one, nearly every kid shared a story about being bullied. I countered each kid’s story with a compliment. I told each child how funny, smart, kind, generous, and talented they are. Some kids smiled and thanked me; others looked away, slightly embarrassed, or maybe not believing what I told them. Then, a quiet girl named “Josie” started to talk about how she fears being bullied, as she is moving to a new school. She broke down in tears and told how fearful she is of not having any friends, of having a mean teacher, of being made fun of. I was about to try to offer words of encouragement, when Mackenzie went to her and wrapped her arms around her in support. As I thanked Mackenzie for being a good friend and for supporting Josie, another kid spoke up and declared that he hopes this girl ends up at his school, and that he would invite her to sit with him. Other kids agreed, and suddenly the whole room was abuzz with kids declaring that they, too, would invite her to eat with them, play with them at recess, or sit next to her.
It was truly beautiful to witness all these kids coming together to support this child who was afraid and hurting. I was amazed at their enthusiasm and willingness to include her. Needless to say, I didn’t have time for my back pack activity, but I didn’t need it. The kids had obviously learned the lesson about bullying, the power of our words, and the importance of being an “upstander.” As time came to a close, I thanked the kids for sharing their stories, and for being such good friends to Josie. I told them that she may not end up at their school this year, but I asked them to remember how they felt as she cried. I told them to remember the pain they saw in her, and I asked them to look for kids like this at school. I asked them to look for the kids who are alone, who are new, who are bullied, and to support them the way they supported Josie. I asked them to stand up, take the initiative, and invite those kids to eat with them or play with them. They told me they would and many of them hugged me on their way out. I could tell the kids felt lighter after having shared their stories of being bullied and that they were really impacted by Josie’s emotional story. It turns out that Mackenzie, Josie, and the rest of the group knew more than I could ever teach them about bullying, and that they already knew how to be “upstanders.” They didn’t need someone like me to teach them those things. They just needed someone to give them time and space to practice these skills and someone to support them and encourage them in being good people. I am happy that I was able to facilitate that opportunity for them, and look forward to more moments like this.