Mentor Public Schools in Ohio are using a unique approach to bullying and mentorship as part of a nationwide program in partnership with the nonprofit Stick Together, and companies Duct Tape and Avon.
The program—which includes 50,000 students in 15 states—encourages high schoolers to teach kids in grades 2 through 6 about the harmful effects of bullying, and how they can stick together to promote kindness instead, WKYC reports.
“It is a powerful message for our younger students to hear about the importance of kindness and acceptance of others from high school students, rather than just hearing it from adults,” district spokeswoman Kristen Kirby said.
Former local news personality Danielle Serino, who serves as Stick Together’s national ambassador, discussed the program on WKYC’s "Donovan Live." “In 97 percent of the cases, the schools tell us, 97 percent of the students are kinder to one another, bullying is reduced, and the graduation rates increase,” she said. “So it’s a win-win.”
Serino believes the program is helping at an opportune time, “especially nowadays with social media, and the pressures these kids are facing."
“Suicides are on the increase . . . so it really helps these kids,” she said.
Mentor High School guidance counselor Marc Nemunaitis said students in MHS’ bullying prevention program are leading the discussions locally, and he believes it will have a significant impact on both the younger and older students who participate. High school students typically lead 45–50-minute discussions on bullying and kindness, and encourage younger students to sign onto a pledge banner to treat each other with respect.
“One of the target areas we’ve noticed is in the middle schools, when bullying happens, and so hitting them before that hopefully they will go to the middle school and bring a good message and help change the culture of the school,” he said.
“The kids (high schoolers) do all of the program, I don’t do anything. I am just behind the scenes. They have two main speakers and four or five other students who help facilitate the program as we go along,” Nemaunaitis said. “The best part is when high school kids talk to elementary kids, the elementary kids are going to listen. But it has dual reasons, because the high school kids get a lot out of it too.”
Research conducted by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture shows the dynamic rings true in many schools.
The Institute’s James Davison Hunter and Ryan S. Olson write in The Content of Their Character, which summarizes research in ten sectors of American education, emphasize the importance of "school practices" in shaping students:
How a school is organized, the course structure and classroom practices, the relationship between school and outside civic institutions—all of these matter in the moral and civic formation of the child.
The Stick Together program, is an initiative developed by Values-in-Action Foundation’s Project Love that leverages the collaboration of multiple schools, businesses, and a non-profit to strengthen the school practices, which has the potential to strengthen local communities, as well.
Since 2016, Stick Together has trained over 70,000 K-8 grade students in 55 Ohio counties in over 200 schools to push back against bullying.