Students Taking Charge: Student-Led, School-Wide, Bullying,
Conflict/Violence Prevention Program.
Sean M. Brooks
Punta Gorda Middle School
Punta Gorda, Fl.
Punta Gorda Middle School.
Punta Gorda, Fl.
This article describes the motive, structure, evolution and results of a student
led, school-wide program to reduce bullying and introduce conflict
resolution strategies to middle school students at Punta Gorda Middle
School, in Punta Gorda Florida. The student led sessions are facilitated by
Mr. Brooks, directed and produced by William Steelnack. The discussions
are filmed, edited and broadcast school-wide with the goal of shaping
positive school culture.
When the Punta Gorda Middle School staff entered our new building four
years after Hurricane Charley blew down the original one back in August of
2004, lots of other changes came along as well. I continued to make
observations regarding students. In particular, I noticed the level of anger in
students; some of whom had been displaced from their homes, towns, and
I also noticed that it was the rare parent that would seek the professional
needed to help their child talk about things on their minds and provide
healthy outlets for their frustration. Regrettably, most of these kids just sat
in class, not focusing on their education, but on their lack of control and the
elevated level of discomfort in their lives outside of school.
Students didn’t feel comfortable going to the school’s counselors, for one
reason or another. Instead, they were way more likely to disclose personal
information to the teachers they saw on a daily basis: the ones whom the
students trusted, and the ones who cared about them.
After hearing many students’ responses about numerous topics, from their
new learning environment to their own personal lives, bullying was at the
heart of the matter. While asking students how they handled these situations
when they arose, it seemed that most would retaliate with negative words or
In the growing age of social media, when what used to be behind-the-back
gossip and bathroom fights are posted on the World Wide Web for all to see
and respond to, addressing the evolution of bullying requires an equally
innovative approach. To develop this new approach, we isolated a few key
issues: How can we bring these victims and harassers together in a
controlled environment? Can we broadcast the sessions so bullies can’t
hide? Can student take the lead in this process? Can we help both sides find
a common ground? And, perhaps most importantly, can we help them create
a sense of empathy?
Then and Now
The group started with caring 8th graders who recognized a problem and
wanted to be in a group that helped. With a little promotion and word of
mouth, a group came together that we called “The Roundtable.” Over the
course of two twenty-minute homeroom periods, the members gathered in a
small meeting room in our Media Center where we asked them about what
was happening in school: What did they like, and what didn’t they like? The
speed of their admirably open and honest responses not only answered our
questions, but carried an additional message as well: it was as if they were
also saying, “Finally, someone cares what we think and can give us ideas on
how to solve these issues.”
We videotaped those two sessions, edited them to fit into a single
homeroom period, and used out closed-circuit TV system to broadcast the
first episode of “The Roundtable” to the entire school. Impact was
immediate. In one class, directly following the show’s conclusion, a girl
raised her hand and said that her uncle had sexually assaulted her. The video
had not even addressed sexual assault, but after seeing students telling their
own opinions of issues close to their hearts, the girl felt comfortable enough
to open up to her classmates and teacher about her own intensely personal
experience. (The teacher reported the claim to our people in charge of child
abuse cases, who then handled the investigation appropriately.) This
incident, and others like it, sent a clear message: if we can get this kind of
response from kids, where they feel encouraged to address issues that have
been boiling inside them for so long, then we just can’t stop doing this.
Since that initial broadcast of our first session four years ago, the group has
remained fluid in both its membership and its format. It’s had as many as 90
students in it at one time, and it’s been as small as six students as well. It’s
had members from grades 6, 7, and 8 come together to discuss school-wide
issues, and it’s had one-grade-only sessions to address more specific
concerns. It’s taken on an intervention platform, where students with poor
reputations come in, and their peers help them find alternatives to negative
behavior. It’s held meetings in the library, and it’s met during lunch. No
matter where, when, or how often it continues to meet, if the group helps one
kid be less violent toward others, then mission accomplished.
Taping and Airing
Our TV Production teacher, William Steelnack, tapes these sessions and
edits the content to keep the message clear. Students are respectful during
the discussions, but every now and again their honesty is overwhelming.
Quotes have included, “No one in this building care about us except you
two,” “Teachers don’t care, counselors don’t care, and you can’t talk to
anyone around here,” and “They don’t want to listen.” We use these
comments as fuel to drive us to help students further, but we don’t use them
in the broadcasts. We don’t want to create more division among teachers or
students; our mission is to prevent conflict, not to create it.
Each episode follows a standard format. The video begins with a scripted
introduction in which a student prepares viewers for what they are about to
watch and encourages them to pay attention because “they might just learn
something.” For the main content, we take the students’ comments from a
wide range of topics and combine them into a logical order, with title
screens to signal the start of each new segment. This allows us to create a
consistent narrative while using elements from discussions filmed days or
even weeks apart. At the end of each video, we pose some discussion
questions to keep the conversation going in each room. We try to air a new
episode every two weeks.
Teachers and schools that don’t have access to a TV studio can still emulate
this production model by using some basic, readily accessible equipment.
Hand-held digital cameras are commercially available for under a hundred
dollars, and tripods are cheap. As for editing software, our school computers
use Windows XP, which includes the program Windows Movie Maker.
After transferring footage from a digital camera, teachers can easily create a
digital video file using this free program, which they can then burn to a disc
or send electronically to other teachers to watch with their students. We’ve
found that this last step, having teachers actively watch the video with their
students, is a key to having our message stick with the audience. When
teachers are engaged, students are engaged, and the discussions that
naturally take place give each student in the school the chance to become an
active participant in the process. Really, creating something like this is
almost easier done than said.
Let us make the motives of this group clear. The purpose was to give
attention to the issue in schools: bullying. Not to lower school-wide
violence, raise standardized-test scores, or create world peace. If these
happen as a result of the simple motive of wanting to help one child realize
the impermanence of bullying, and understand its causes and solutions in the
short and long term, then so be it.
Frame your group around this simple motive and mission. Let kids take the
reigns, while guided by a few teachers that care and want to listen and help.
This will create teamwork among the students, their peers, and their
teachers, and will give that team an opportunity to exert a positive influence,
which can last a lifetime.
Sean M. Brooks teaches Health Education at Punta Gorda Middle School in
Punta Gorda, Fl. He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He
has a Masters Degree in Instructional Technology. He advises the
Conflict/Violence Prevention Focus Group at PGMS. Sean is also an
Associate with Partners In Learning
(http://performancepyramid.muohio.edu) and contributes to
NewTeacherHelp.com on the subject of conflict and violence reduction in
schools. He is a member of NMSA.
William Steelnack teaches Broadcast Communications at Punta Gorda
Middle School. A National Board Certified English teacher and a graduate
of the University of Florida (Bachelors in English, Masters in English
Education), he thoroughly enjoys having a TV Studio at his and his students’
disposal. He is a member of NMSA.
Sean Brooks and William Steelnack will be presenting at the National
Middle School Association’s annual conference in Louisville, Kentucky on
November 10-12 of 2011. Come and see the students that have made this
group successful and listen to their stories from the heart. Get further ideas
on how to get a group like this started at your school.