If young people learn to look beyond the surface of others, the chances of bullying and other misbehavior lessens.
It’s no small difference in relating to others and the benefits can stay with young students through adulthood.
That’s why Lakota School officials devoted parts of three school days at Lakota East High School for its annual “Be The Difference” classes for the school’s sophomores.
Noted anti-bullying speakers worked with three different portions of the 720-member sophomore classes on each day and through large and small group discussions, role playing and other activities students were challenged to look deeper at their peers and others.
“The point of Be The Difference (program) is to provide our students with an opportunity to learn a little bit more about others, to be more empathetic and to promote a more positive culture at Lakota East,” said Michelle Kohler, a school counselor at the Butler County high school.
Nationally, bullying — largely fueled by students’ increased access to social media and its many cyber-bullying opportunities — is widespread.
More than one out of every five (20.8 percent) students report being bullied, according to 2016 research from the National Center for Educational Statistics.
“We’re trying to prevent the bullying before it occurs by helping students understand that other students have lots of different experiences in their lives that bring them where they are today. And our hope is that students — before they think about bullying — will maybe stop and put themselves in another students’ shoes and think about the life circumstances (other students) have had up to this point … and respond a little bit more sensitively,” she said.
“We know (the program) is working because we definitely see a positive climate here. The overall tone of our school is very positive,” said Kohler.
Lakota East sophomore Courtney Seil described the lessons learned as “deep.”
“I (now) understand people I don’t normally know or talk to at school are going through,” she said.
The same program will be conducted in January with Lakota West High School sophomores.
Matt Miller, superintendent for Lakota, said the seminar “is a valuable program that helps our students understand the importance of respecting and accepting one another. It teaches appreciation of our differences and helps to build a sense of community within the grade level and school.”
Lakota East Principal Suzanna Davis said there are strong reasons the program is now in its seventh year at her school.
The program changes with the times, said Davis, and “over the years we have seen an evolution in the program and the impact on our students.”
“Students enter the day with a variety of emotions and thoughts. Some are hesitant to engage, some are skeptical of the impact while others are excited. The program masterfully peels back the layers in order to break down barriers and create a foundation for true respect and appreciation for our individual stories. Students often comment the program had a profound impact on the way they view themselves, their peers and their school,” she said.