If your school could have a superpower, what would it be? If it’s an anti-bullying superpower, you’re in luck. I’d like to shout from the rooftops about the “Safe School Ambassadors” program. Masterminded by Rick Phillips, founder of Community Matters in Sebastopol, Calif., the program is indeed a superpower. It works like this: Take any school. Out of 1,000 students, pick the 40 most popular kids from each clique. Add popular teachers. Put everyone in a room together for two days and train them in nonviolent communication and intervention. This blockbuster program has reduced bullying exponentially in over 900 schools. Yours could be next. Please check it out at www.community-matters.org or call 707-823-6159.
Regina, 12, Redondo Beach: I became a Safe School Ambassador in fifth grade. We learned how to defuse difficult situations: exclusions, put-downs, physical contact, cyberbullying. I’m now not afraid to stand up to bullies. What an impact on our school! We have stopped fights and potential situations. One example was when everyone started kicking a girl out of a game. Though I barely knew her, I immediately took her and we played another game. She is now a great friend.
Jesse, 18, Brockport, N.Y.: Because of the ambassador program, I changed from being one of those bullies to a person who speaks out and helps others be happy and successful. Since this program came to Brockport there are hardly any fights. People talk about their problems instead of fighting. Upperclassmen now help motivate underclassmen instead of picking on them.
Some examples: In the locker room, two close friends from track were ripping someone who was overweight. I had to strength to say, “Hey! Maybe he’s trying to make a change. Bullying isn’t going to help!” Another time I sat with about six guys in the lunch room. An overweight kid named Zach was sitting alone and they decided to make fun of him. I told them to chill! I asked how they would feel if they sat alone? Now some of them actually sit with Zach and are becoming friends. All this makes me see how people can change so quickly when the right person tells them off. For instance, my two friends from track have now joined me in fighting the bullies. There’s a domino effect.
Passakorn, 18, Riviera Beach, Fla.: Being an ambassador has taught me that everyone is unique simply for being who they are. I have become more respectful and patient of the world. The school is knitted as a family with ambassadors all over campus looking out for their peers. We are lucky to have no fights.
Yoseph, 12, Redondo Beach: In ambassador training, we learned when to get an adult versus when to handle things ourselves. For example, you know there will be a fight. You know the toughest kids in school will hurt someone weak. You get a teacher and the problem is over. But for things like exclusion, you include the excluded person in your group. Or you diffuse things. Recently two kids started yelling and arguing. Probably someone said something offensive. I took the one I knew the most and distracted him.
Omari, 17, Wellington, Fla.: I remember my first ambassador training. We spoke about fears, drugs (and) family. I remember the question, “How many of you have family members who are alcoholics?” Almost 80 percent of the room raised their hands, including me. It was shocking how much we all had in common — which is what the Safe School Ambassadors Club is about. We are a family that helps others. Although I don’t know everyone in the club, our family feeling is obvious at our meetings. We just gel together. If people formed groups like this regularly, the world would be a much better place.
More from Lauren Forcella:
Kindness truly is contagious — and so is cruelty. Humans are such social beings we tend to follow those who are popular, even when they’re doing what we know is wrong. Most people have a story of doing something mean just to look good. Or they have a story of looking the other way. Almost nobody has a story of standing up to bullies. The Safe School Ambassadors program changes all that by making the most popular kids peace leaders. It’s a brilliant idea — with a proven track record in over 900 schools.
Schools have become places of fear and dread for many kids. And some kids who are bullied or excluded become emotionally disturbed — as we know from examining the underpinnings of school shootings. In fact, it was upon contemplating the horror at Colombine that Rick Phillips visualized the Safe School Ambassadors concept.
The cost of running this program is small, especially compared to the value of having peaceful schools — and from there, a more peaceful world. Please help me shout this from the rooftops by taking a copy of this column to your school and requesting the program.
For more discussion, to ask a question, or inquire about being a youth panelist, visit www.straighttalkTNT.com or write to PO Box 963 Fair Oaks, Calif. 95628.