When a Ridgeway, Ohio FFA member’s little sister was being bullied at school, the Ridgemont High School FFA chapter didn’t just stand back and let it happen. They put their heads together with their principal and guidance counselor to come up with a solution.
“We noticed there were bullying problems at both the high school and the elementary, and we believed we had the leadership to stop it,” says Ashton McCullough, historian of the Ridgemont FFA chapter.
Collaborating with their local Crossroads Crisis Center, Ridgemont FFA planned a Bullying Awareness Campaign that included a STOP (Students Taking On Prevention) the Violence Week, which was packed with activities designed to create awareness about what bullying is and the staggering effects of it.
“Crossroads Crisis Center in Lima is a domestic abuse shelter that provides counseling and assistance to domestic violence victims,” says Stephanie Jolliff, Ridgemont FFA advisor. “We contacted them after reading an article in the Kenton Times that said they wanted to reach out to schools to assist in breaking the cycle of violence, which usually begins as bullying. Crossroads has served as adult mentors for our FFA members and assisted in planning school-wide assemblies on violence.”
Crossroads Crisis Center helped Ridgemont FFA organize a powerful “Please Remember Me” assembly where they told the stories of 25 people who died at the hands of domestic violence, often a long-term repercussion of bullying. At the end of each story, students blew out a candle and said, “Please remember me.”
Because Ridgemont FFA’s goal was to change behaviors, they ran the Bullying Awareness Campaign throughout the entire school year even after STOP the Violence Week was over.
“Several times we did a Mix It Up At Lunch activity, which is a national initiative to get students to sit with others during lunch periods,” says Shawn Smith, Ridgemont FFA president. “We had students pledge not to bully at the beginning of the year and launch off bullying with a balloon launch at the end of the year. During Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we passed out informational materials on purple paper, dedicated an anti-dating violence book for our library and planted a bush to remember abuse victims.”
The campaign encompassed the entire school district because FFA members didn’t want to miss the opportunity to change behaviors at the elementary and middle school levels as well.
“At the elementary schools, we used the Chicken Little story to create their anti-bullying theme,” McCullough says. “Our high school guidance counselor, Ms. Kroetz, helped us relate the story to the kids and how bullying can impact a person’s self-esteem. We did role-playing with the students, and it really hit home about how their words make others feel. At recess, the kids made their own ‘pledge to not bully’ signs and had everyone sign them.”
About 95 percent of Ridgemont High School students participated in the campaign, and school bullying dropped 65 percent during the program.
“The response was positive because it was lead by students, for students,” Smith says. “Bullying is an issue in every school, so it is important that the students, who can impact it most, are on the leading edge of stopping it.”
Ridgemont FFA members agree the atmosphere at their school has changed dramatically as a result of the campaign. They plan to expand it during the 2011-2012 school year and hope to share it with schools across Ohio and the entire country.
“Now walking down the hallway, I don’t feel the negative vibe I used to feel,” McCullough says. “One idea I am excited about for this year is involving the drama department and music students in the writing and presentation of a play that will demonstrate the impacts of bullying and what it feels like for students who are bullied.”
Ridgemont Guidance Counselor Jessica Kroetz says she loves working with FFA members to brainstorm new ideas and events.
“We are planning to begin a peer mediation group for the students to assist each other with bullying issues and other concerns,” Kroetz says. “I see this as a great way for our kids to learn to solve their own problems and work together.”
– Jessica Mozo