Congregation Partners with High School to Break the Cycle of Bullying
The vast majority of teens across America today use Facebook, Twitter and other social media to connect with their friends. While many of these interactions are harmless and even positive, some cause lasting damage.
Bullies, for example, use social media forums to reach beyond schoolyards and neighborhood street corners into the digital lives of their young victims. While bullies traditionally have engaged in verbal and physical assaults, technology now gives them opportunities for online bashing 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Bullying is a national problem,” says Jennifer Warner, associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Bend, Oregon. Her congregation has joined forces with a local high school to address this issue that is plaguing communities across the country. First Church members have found that offering support to teens as they make the difficult transition to high school can reduce incidents of bullying.
The congregation donated its share of funds from the Peacemaking Offering to set up a mentoring program at Bend Senior High School. The project pairs seniors with incoming students to ease the transition by helping the new students through their first year of high school. Funds given by the church helped train school staff members and provide materials for the year’s activities through a national program called Link Crew. Sponsors of the mentoring effort believe the culture at Bend Senior High will become healthier as more students become involved in the program.
“We wanted to reach out to make positive change in our community,” Warner says. “The partnership with Bend High is one way we can help reach young people in neighborhoods across the city to let them know that someone cares.”
In a 2011 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, one in five teens reported being bullied the previous year. Most bullying occurs when adults are not present. Black eyes, bloody lips or torn clothing may signal to parents that something is wrong. But thee telltale signs are not present when bullying takes the form of devastating mind games. Many students use text messaging, Facebook, Twitter and chat rooms or create websites to disgrace and put down other students. The damage done by cyberbullies is no less real than physical attacks and can be more painful.
Statistics from the National Association of School Psychologists are even more sobering: 160,000 students per day stay home from school because of bullying, and more than 90 percent of school shootings involve male perpetrators who were relentlessly tormented by bullies who accused them of being not manly enough or not aggressive enough.
As participants in the Bend, Oregon, mentoring program have learned, the most effective efforts to reduce bullying involve collaboration among parents, students, school and community. All parties must take responsibility for speaking out against bullying. To bring about lasting change, it is especially important that students be given a voice and an active role.
“Studies have proven that a positive experience during the first year of high school greatly increases a student’s chances of success,” says Jan McKnight, who teaches health and physical education and serves as activities director at Bend Senior High School. Seniors who have successfully navigated the challenges of high school can serve as positive role models for the younger students.
“The partnerships and relationships formed through this program,” says McKnight, “help students realize that people at school and in the community care about them and their success.”
Gail Strange, Director, Church and Mid Council Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray
Dear God, blessed are those who add to the harmony of your world and encourage others to do the same. Thank you for drawing us into the circle of your love. Amen.