In day to day situations that many adults do not witness peer ambassadors thwart middle school bullying.
“There’s a lot of drama going on right now in the seventh grade,” seventh grader Mauricio Esqueda said.
He and more than two dozen other students are Safe Ambassadors at Cottonwood Middle School who were chosen because of their influence in their peer groups.
Students are the first people to see instances of mistreatment, making them more able than teachers to stand up for targets.
“Adults don’t know what goes on in the school culture,” Cottonwood-Oak Creek Counselor Barb Daher said. “When you have this group of students that kind of infiltrate into their groups, things start to get better. They can actually be on the scene.”
Daher started the Safe Schools Ambassadors program during the 2010-11 school year with students recommended by their teachers as influential in their peer groups.
“I don’t care what their grades are, I don’t care how their behavior is,” Daher said. “A lot of times it’s just because of personality, and then other times it’s because they’ve lived lives that people that are 70 years old haven’t lived. Life can be this very cruel teacher or it can be this very positive teacher, and these students have had all these experiences.”
Suspensions were down by half after the program’s first year, and discipline has stayed low.
“The general population on this campus has definitely become kinder,” she said.
The program targets five types of mistreatment: exclusion, put-downs, unwanted physical attention, acts against campus and bullying, or being terrorized by a specific person over a period of time.
“Things that happen a million times in five minutes on the playground, we’re training these kids how to notice it and how to think, act and then follow up,” Daher said.
Students decide whether they want to be trained to be ambassadors. Most students say yes, and attend a training at the recreation center complete with food.
One day is spent on self-exploration and breaking down barriers. Day two is when they are taught how to use simple techniques, like changing the subject that can keep a situation from escalating.
“It doesn’t solve the bullying, but at least it solves the bullying for that moment,” Daher said.
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