Last year, 8 members of the Wells Peace and Leadership Council (PLC) trained over 100 of their peers in the “How to Be an Upstander” anti-bullying training. The training was powerful for both the facilitators and participants; as trainers, students sharpened their skills in public speaking, clarity, and encouragement, and as participants, students took pledges to intervene whenever they witness bullying.
Now in its third iteration at Wells, the Upstander training has become embedded in the school culture. Every year, a new group of Mikva Challenge student leaders reviews the training material and edits the content as they see fit. This year, the Wells community has identified cyberbullying as a particularly salient issue among students, so the PLC members have decided to make it the focus of their Upstander trainings. The students are currently working on an awareness video about how to stand up against cyberbullying, which they hope to share as a resource for other schools.
This week, the Wells PLC led their first Upstander trainings of the year, with participants from the Boys and Girls Club after-school program. Peers engaged in honest conversations about the impact of bullying and the need to take action to intervene in negative behaviors.
The PLC members worked hard for eight weeks to review, modify, and polish their workshops, and delegated roles to ensure that everyone played a part in facilitation. Their hard work was clear — students carefully paced their presentation, and clearly explained the different components of the training so that peers would thoroughly understand. Students made sure that the training was engaging by including skits, small-group challenges, and of course, music and snacks.
The training was well-received, and participants left with new information and tips. Even students who were initially reluctant to participate were fully engaged by the middle of the workshop. One student said that the workshop “made me feel like I wasn’t helping out enough and need to step up my game when I see bullying.”
Unlike past Upstander trainings, which were broader and encompassed many different forms of bullying, this Upstander training largely focuses on cyberbullying, which is a growing problem that can seem virtually impossible to address (pun intended.) To give their peers a better sense of the consequences of cyberbullying, PLC members explained a new Illinois state law in which schools have the right to access social media accounts of any student who is allegedly involved in cyberbullying. Audience members were surprised by this legislation; one student expressed that she would “rethink what to say or post about people [online.]”
Peer-led workshops can be some of the most effective ways to convey information, since students often have more open conversations about tough issues with one another than with adults. The Wells PLC will continue to host more workshops next month!