There are 475 students at Polk Middle School in Albuquerque's South Valley. Sixty of them are trained as Safe Schools Ambassadors. Funded through the Safe Schools/Healthy Students initiative, the ambassadors program gives students skills for dealing with bullying. Polk is one of three schools that are using the program before rolling it out to more locations around the district.
Polk already had anti-bullying measures in place when the school first adopted the Safe Schools Ambassadors program last school year. Bullying often takes place where adults can't see it. That's where the ambassadors come in. "It's about stopping something when it is small and giving kids the tools to know how to do that on their own without always having to get adult help," says Polk counselor Debbie Abrams-Burroughs.
The students dedicate two days to intensive training in skills like including others, distracting bullies and defusing bullying situations. They also learn when it's okay to step in and when to get an adult. "It doesn't have to be a big, huge grand gesture with horns and bells. It's the little under-the-radar things that can make a difference," says Abrams-Burroughs. The ambassadors meet regularly in small groups to refresh their training and talk about any issues they see.
While youth sometimes tune out what they hear from adults, they are very open to listening to their peers. "The whole idea of the SSA program is that you are supposed to choose kids that have social influence," says Abrams-Burroughs. "Kids who are in the program and are in the moment, can stop it right there." That may take the form of a gesture as simple as inviting an excluded student to sit with them at lunch or telling friends not to spread rumors.
The Safe Schools Ambassadors are thriving at Polk due to the efforts of the students and the support of the staff and administration. "We have an incredibly dedicated staff, people who give up their own time and their own lunch-time to do this for the kids because it's a program they believe in," says Abrams-Burroughs. She sees a bright future for the ambassadors at Polk. "We would like to continue to grow the program and expand it even more. We would like to have it be part of our culture," she says.