Deborah McCabe is one of 1200 students at Jimmy Carter Middle School. The 8th grader is also one of 60 Safe Schools Ambassadors that step up to stop bullying throughout the day. "The teachers don't hear everything. They can't see everything and be everywhere at the same time. You have to have everybody looking out for each other," says McCabe.
Safe Schools Ambassadors are students that have gone through intensive training on how to recognize and deal with bullying in all its forms. They commit to speaking up against bullying, including students that have been excluded, and bringing in adults to help when necessary. "They are good skills to use when you see a bad situation going on with bullying at school," says Jonathan Orozco, an 8th grade ambassador. "I've solved a lot of different situations with kids. Usually, it's about a fight and I talk one of the kids out of it."
Ambassadors are chosen for their willingness to speak up and talk to their friends about bullying when issues arise. "We looked at teacher recommendations. We looked at students that are leaders amongst their peers," says Jimmy Carter counselor Kim Bloemker. She sees the Safe Schools Ambassadors training as fine-tuning the natural skills that the students already have. "The more we empower the students to intervene, the better off the school is going to be," she says.
There are three ambassadors programs funded by the Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant, with more on the way. When Bloemker first heard about Safe Schools Ambassadors, she knew it would be a good fit for Jimmy Carter. "Bullying prevention is one of my passions," she says. When she presented the idea to the teachers and administrators, she had more volunteers than she could use. Bloemker points to the concept of entrusting students with handling bullying situations when adults can't be there. "It's something simple that we can do to help change that culture and make it a more positive place to be," she says.
Students and teachers are seeing an impact on the climate at the school. "It's made a big difference. I think that there is not as much bullying because there are a lot of ambassadors this year," says Orozco. The success of the young program comes down to the enthusiasm of the students and the support of the staff at Jimmy Carter. "The power of the culture of the school lies with the students," says Bloemker.
Bloemker would like to have the school's entire administration and mental health team go through Safe Schools Ambassadors training. She also plans to expand the ranks of the student ambassadors. Orozco thinks that would be a great idea. "It's a really good program. I think everybody should be an ambassador so that they can help out and stop bullying," he says.