Youth as Change Agents: Creating Compassionate School Communities
"Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a great battle." - Philo of Alexandria
A series of nationwide teen suicides and instances of school violence in recent years has increased awareness of bullying and the need to address this critical issue. In response New York State created The Dignity for All Students Act, important legislation that went into effect on July 1st, 2012. Currently schools and communities across the country are grappling with the question, “How can we overcome bullying?”
Efforts to address bullying fall into two categories:
1) Imposing change from the outside in 2) Inspiring change from the inside out
Following the first path, schools increase supervision of students, create stricter rules and punishments, limit student interactions in hallways, and provide instruction on tolerance and respect. Though important, this approach may merely limit the scope of the problem rather than creating real change.
“Youth as Change Agents”, a leadership program for Middle School and High School students, follows the second path. The program views students as the greatest resource for overcoming bullying amongst students in schools and society. Why? Because young people have expert, firsthand knowledge of this problem, have the passion and insight needed to create solutions aligned with the unique culture of their individual schools, and are stakeholders in the creation of school environments that are beneficial for everyone. “Youth as Change Agents” helps students to:
Investigate the nature of bullying in their lives and it’s impacts
Create a vision of their school culture beyond bullying
Identify core social competencies, such as compassion and communication skills, needed to bring this vision to life
Learn these competencies through experiential training and coaching
Teach these competencies to their peers through student led workshops
As students master and teach the skills needed to create a school culture based on demonstrations of kindness, understanding, and acceptance – experiences that we all desire – students take ownership of their school environments and become agents of positive change at school and in their future lives beyond school.