Saturday, July 20, 2019
Safeguarding Schools Inside-Out Instead of Outside-In
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The Advocates have used students like these to help teach bystander tools through its Green Dot program.
 
Saturday, April 20, 2019
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

U.S. schools have spent $20 billion beefing up security since the shootings at Columbine High School, which took 20 years ago today.

But while schools may be more secure, they’re not safer, contends the founder of a youth-centered violence prevention program that has been implemented in more than 1,500 schools across the United States and Canada.

Rick Phillips told more than 650 teachers, counselors and school resources officers attending this week’s Idaho Prevention and Support Conference at Sun Valley Resort that most schools adopt an adult-driven, control-driven, outside-in approach to secure schools. They rely on school resource officers, punitive policies and, often, metal detectors.

That approach—keeping trouble out—may work at an airport or in a prison but not in schools, he said.

.“You can’t keep students out of school, and every day they bring weapons to school—weapons of prejudice, grudges….”

Far more effective is enlisting students in the effort to make their schools safe, said Phillips, who authored “Safe School Ambassadors: Harnessing Student Power to Stop Bullying and Violence."

Safe schools use the inside-out approach. Students see, hear and know things administrators don’t. And they can effectively intervene in ways adults can’t. They can also set the tone and social norms on campus.

Enlisting students in the effort means establishing social connections between students and the school staff--from the administrator to the cafeteria lady, Phillips said.

"We’ve got bully prevention programs…we’ve got so many programs. But what’s missing is the connection. Meanness is being more normalized. Since 2009 there’s been an increase in indifference and relational aggression, thanks in part to cyberbullying and social media.

 Phillips recounted how he grew up in a neighborhood where everybody knew him and "if little Ricky Phillips did something inappropriate,someone would come out of their house and tell me to stop what I was doing or they’d tell my mom."

Today’s students are living in a disconnected world where people are indifferent to wrongdoing, he added. But that can be changed--not with money but with changing attitudes.

“The safest schools are those with teachers who realize students don’t care as much about what they know but how much they care," he said. "These are teachers who greet students at door, acknowledging, 'We value you.' "

Teachers who care correct and connect, rather than catch and punish. They offer not just a lot of extracurricular activities but activities that empower kids to make a difference as school mediators, policy setters and advisers. They’re relationship-focused, student centered, restorative focused. he said.

 Phillips challenged teachers and administrators to get to know their students below the surface and to provide opportunities for students to do the same.

“It’s harder to hate someone when you know their story. It’s easier to like someone when you know their story. Familiarity has the ability to create openness and trust. Trust builds connection, as you’re no longer strangers."

On any given day, 15 percent of students are either aggressors or targets. The remaining 85 percent fall into the passive majority. When they don’t take action, their emboldening the aggressor, Phillips said.

"They’re effectively saying, 'It’s okay to do what you're doing. People don’t care,' " Phillips said. "Silence is a powerful weapon. It’s a form of consent."

Phillips experienced that himself as a 10-year-old who had just moved with his family from Canada to Southern California. He was walking with his 6-year-old brother to school when some bullies knocked him down, scattering his books.

“I saw a ring of kids standing around watching and wondered why they weren’t stopping it,” he recalled. “Because they didn’t, I internalized it. I thought maybe I was the one at fault. That experience marked me the rest of my life. I became a troubled teen, was expelled for fist fighting…”

Phillips held up a blank piece of paper, then began ripping pieces out of it.

“I came into the world a whole being. That incident tore pieces out of me. How different would it have been for me if someone had said, ‘Leave him alone,’ or even helped me pick up my books.”

The answer, Phillips said, is to awaken the courage of bystanders and equip them with effective tools to stop bullying.

“What kids need to know most of all is that someone’s got their back,” he said.

Bystanders can get in a friend’s face and say, “If you do that, you will get kicked off the soccer team, and we don’t want that.”

Other bystander interventions include distracting the bully, redirecting the action, getting help and offering assistance to the target.

Phillips recounted an incidence where a group of students began laughing after a girl tripped and things spilled out of her day pack. A couple boys even kicked some of the items further away. But, as soon as one student knelt down and asked if he could help her pick up her stuff, the laughing stopped and those who kicked the stuff away began helping pick it up.

 Phillips encouraged attendees to choose not just the kids on student council for leadership roles but the marginalized, as well.

As a principal, he said, he would have students meet teacher applicants. The students would walk them across campus, taking mental notes on how they responded to opportunities to pick up a soccer ball and hand it back to a student. They’d also take note of how well the applicants made eye contact and took the opportunity to meet students whose paths they crossed.

“Imagine how a student feels when they’ve had that kind of influence. Put kids in the business of bystander education, helping peers, mediating, serving as restorative leaders. Young people are an effective strategy that is underutilized"

Phillips says he encourages the students he deals with to perform a minimum of two kind actions a week. In a class of 40 students, that’s 80 kind actions a week. Over a 34-week school year, it’s adds up to more than 2,700 acts of kindness.

“It gives these students opportunities to become change agents,” he said. “And it’s easier to develop healthy and strong children then fix broken adults.”

Want to know more? Visit https://community-matters.org.

 

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