The national spotlight has been trained on the devastating impact of bullying following the recent suicides of youth who were targets of bullying in their schools. Concerned adults, including parents, educators, advocates, and law enforcement, have scrambled to come up with effective solutions.
Through YES! (Youth Establishing Strength), our national youth-led campaign to make schools safe and inclusive for all students, NCCJ has done something unique—gather 300 high school students at a daylong, youth-led conference to ask them what should be done to stop the epidemic of bullying that overshadows their lives. Integrating social media, technology, and the arts, this conference launched a multi-year national initiative that promotes positive youth-led efforts to transform the culture of school communities to be safe and welcoming for ALL students.
YES! provides the tools and youth build the community.
The kickoff conference was held on Sunday, October 23, 2011 at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA. (The Basketball Hall of Fame will close its facility to the public for the day.) Up to 300 high school students from 32 schools (in teams of up to 8 students and one adult) in Southern New England (CT, MA, RI) spent the day identifying strategies and solutions to transform the culture in their schools.
MC’d by two of our most awesome YES! Youth Leaders Nadia Balogou and Chris Peck, the students spent the morning building community, learning what bias-based bullying is, and participating in a lunch-time impromptu dance party! Then each of them participated in “skill-building” workshops that taught them skills like how to emotionally support a friend who is harassed, how to start and sustain a Gay Straight Alliance, and how to be an active bystander. Best part – each of these workshops were co-facilitated by youth and young adults with adults serving as support.
In the afternoon, youth ideated, discussed, and ranked hundreds of ideas in a “live brainstorming” session facilitated by Dr. Maura Cullen. NCCJ and its Youth Leadership Team will now incorporate these ideas into a replicable model of effective, youth-driven solutions to be implemented in school communities nationwide.
While the youth were participated in dialogues, danced, shared, and learned with their peers; adult advisors from each school had the opportunity to talk with their peers. During the morning, Dr. Monica Brase and Muneer Panjwani facilitated a dialogue on how to create institutional support in their schools to put youth-driven strategies into practice. And, in the afternoon Dr. Andrea Kandel along with Keri DeJong of University of Massachusetts – Amherst facilitated a group dialogue on ways adults can individually support and be allies to youth leaders.
The day closed with yet another dance party – this time to the “Electric Slide” and a slide-show of all the beautiful people who have made a commitment to make their schools safe and inclusive for all.
In the next few months, NCCJ will work to organize all of the ideas and release a preliminary report of findings. By mid-2012, NCCJ will work with the YES! Leadership Team to create a curriculum using youth strategies and youth voices that we hope will emPOWER youth nationwide to create positive change in their schools.
Check out some more pictures of the conference on our Facebook.
Many thanks to Sophia Dzialo and Emilio Flores for taking fantastic pictures throughout the day!
YES! would like to thank the following sponsors for saying YES! to this campaign!