The story of persistent bullying against a Westport middle school student — and the YouTube video she posted about it — made national headlines last month.
The school district has policies and procedures, describing education efforts and responses to reports of bullying by teachers, administrators and staff members. But some of the most effective work may be done by students themselves.
Earlier this year Staples sophomores Zoe Cohen and Kate O’Brien — members of the school’s Teen Awareness Group — had an idea. They were already making presentations to freshmen, on topics like friendships, substance use — and bullying.
The impact of hearing teenagers — from Westport — talk about those issues was far greater than listening to adults.
So, the girls wondered: Why not do it for younger kids?
TAG advisor Chris Lemone and DARE officer Ned Batlin thought it was a great idea.
TAG members — including Zoe and Kate — have already presented to Long Lots and Green’s Farms 5th graders.
“We talk about how good friends don’t put peer pressure on someone,” Kate says.
“A lot of the questions the kids asked were about fights with friends,” Zoe adds. “Some of them are worried about middle school. We were definitely honest, and said middle school can be tough because everyone is trying to fit in. We tried to reassure them.”
Zoe adds, “I had DARE when I was at Long Lots, and I got a lot out of it. But we never heard older kids talk.”
Many TAG members have spoken with 5th graders through DARE. They’ve had great experiences, and have enjoyed watching the youngsters move from hesitancy to exploding with questions and comments. “Even the boys take part!” Kate says.
“People think of TAG as only being about drinking and driving at Staples,” Zoe says. “We want to do more in the community, and DARE is a start.”
The 5th graders are not the only ones who get something out of the discussions. The TAG students do too.
“I really feel like I’ve accomplished something when they share their stories and worries with us,” Zoe says.
“They really trust us about things like bullying,” Kate adds. “They believe what we say.”