From Bystanders to Upstanders: A Solution That Works | Not in Our Town

From Bystanders to Upstanders: A Solution That Works

This week, Not In Our School featured a video of DeMonte, an upstander at his middle school as a Safe School Ambassador. The Ambassadors program is part of Community Matters, which encourages students to act as role models against bullying. Community Matters founder Rick Phillips works to equip students with the tools to keep their own schools safe. 
By Rick Phillips, Founder of Community Matters
Community Matters founder Rick PhillipsAs educators, parents, and the community at large, we have addressed the growing issue of bullying, cyberbullying and harassment by implementing tools, policies and procedures that focus primarily on security.  All too often these decisions have been made in the absence of a powerful stakeholder group, a voice that is critical in making systemic change to prevent, de-escalate and stop mistreatment on school campuses, the student voice. 
While security measures such as metal detectors, bulletproof windows, and security guards are necessary to secure a campus and keep physical weapons out of schools, it is the empowered voice of students that will change the norms and culture of mistreatment, violence and bigotry that live within the walls of our school systems.
Adults make the rules, but the students set the norms on a school campus.  It is time that we treat students as contributors, not just as consumers.  It is time that we partner with the largest population of the school community to be the change agents. So how can we empower students to positively impact the school climate?  How can we engage students to be part of a process that will change norms?  
For the past 12 years, Community Matters has been supporting this change process through our flagship program Safe School Ambassadors.  The Safe School Ambassadors program wakes up the courage of socially influential students to stand up and speak up against the mistreatment that has become the norm in far too many schools.
Through Safe School Ambassadors, we are equipping, empowering and engaging diverse student leaders to safely and effectively speak up when they see or hear their friends or classmates say or do something mean. 
The good news is that IT WORKS!  Safe School Ambassadors was recently published in the prestigious SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidenced-based Programs and Practices (NREPP)
The independent evaluation of the SSA program that led to the NREPP publication found that when the program was implemented as designed, SSA schools showed a drop in suspension rates of 33 percent, while suspension rates in non-SSA schools increased 10 percent during the same years.  Schools also continually share their own anecdotal results with Community Matters, indicating marked improvements in school climate, attendance rates, student engagement, suspension rates, and more.
Every time an Ambassador chooses to stand up and de-escalate or interrupt a situation of mistreatment, they are modeling courage and action for their peers and they have potentially made a positive long-lasting impact on the target. Their actions naturally begin to change the norm on campus from students acting as bystanders watching mistreatment to a norm of speaking up against mistreatment.
DeMonte SmithIn these times of increasing uncertainty and violence, it is hopeful to know there is a solution. And it is our job as adults to help wake up courage in students to impact their own schools and communities. Students are waiting; we just need to give them the tools, skills, opportunity and support to be the leaders we know they can become.
We invite you to see an Ambassador in action and hear his thoughts on being a Safe School Ambassador.  Click here to hear from DeMonte.
Rick Phillips is the founder and executive director of Community Matters, as well as the creator of the Safe School Ambassadors program. Safe School Ambassadors is a youth-centered, violence prevention program that has been implemented in more than 1,000 schools across the United States and Canada. Rick has become a nationally-recognized educator, speaker, facilitator, and trainer who brings years of expertise and practical experience to schools and communities across the continent and abroad. Learn more about Community Matters here.

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