Welcoming Schools launched the latest salvo in the ongoing crusade against school bullying this week when it released What Can We Do? Bias, Bullying, & Bystanders, a film designed to equip educators with information that will enable them to more effectively respond to bullying.
In addition to the 12-minute professional development film, What Can We Do? includes a user's guide, training materials, and innovative lesson plans that create a platform for kids to talk about bullying, how it makes them feel, and the impact it has on their lives and their learning.
The film premiered Wednesday at an event sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, which runs the Welcoming Schools project. It was hosted by the Cleveland School, a public elementary school in Washington, D.C. In addition to the film screening, the event included a panel discussion, a reading of two popular children's books about bullying, and remarks from David Esquith, director of the Office of Safe and Healthy Students at the U.S. Department of Education.
Esquith brought regards from Education Secretary Arne Duncan and told the crowd that support for the anti-bullying work of Welcoming Schools extends all the way to the White House. A former educator and school administrator himself, Esquith noted that bullying has lifetime effects for victims and bullies alike: those who are bullied are prone to depression and their academic performance suffers, and children who bully others are more prone to substance abuse, relationship problems, and greater contact with law enforcement later in their lives.
The Welcoming Schools program was created by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation to help schools, communities, and parents come together to create safe learning environments where each child can be who they are. Four hundred schools in 54 districts across the country are currently engaged with Welcoming Schools.
According to program director Kim Westheimer, research overwhelmingly shows that when kids see someone being bullied, they feel sad for the victim and want to help, but often don't know what to do. Speaking about What Can We Do, she said, "[Tonight's] film was created to stimulate conversations about bullying and encourage students to speak out when they see it taking place, and to provide ways for educators to create teachable moments" around the issue.
Westheimer also noted that more than 160,000 students across America stay home every day because they're afraid of being bullied at school.
Included among the materials distributed to attendees was a cheat sheet for educators outlining the most and least helpful ways to respond to the commonly-heard schoolyard taunt, "that's so gay." Studies have shown that LGBT students who frequently hear the word "gay" used as a pejorative are at an increased risk for a whole host of negative health problems.
Elizabeth Davis, president of the Washington Teachers Union, stressed the importance of a community-wide response to bullying:
"When students come to our schools, they bring their communities with them. It's critically important to address the bullying problem in all aspects of students' lives."
The evening concluded with a spirited performance of I Am Me by the Cleveland Elementary School Chorus (pictured above).
To learn more about Welcoming Schools, click here.