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Director’s Corner October 2017

October 20th, 2017

This past weekend I had the opportunity to participate in our sister organization, AFCAMP’s Youth Summit. Dozens of young people from Hartford and surrounding communities participated in workshops and discussions on a number of topics. I was there to facilitate two groups discussing bullying and bias against students with disabilities.

As always when I am with groups like this I am pretty sure I learned more than the students did. Our conversations focused on bullying, and I thought I should share what I learned.
The first thing I learned was that every student in both of the sessions I participated in had stories of being bullied. We often site statistics that say that twenty to thirty percent of students experience bullying, but if these students are to be believed seems that it much be far higher. I think it is sometimes a matter of perception. Many of the students said that the incidents didn’t really bother them; “I don’t have time for that stuff.” But it was clear form the fact that they wanted to talk about things that what might seem to be relatively minor incidents had an impact.
I asked them what adults could do to help the situation and got my second lesson. There was pretty universal dismissal of intervention by the school. “They have cameras everywhere, but they never do anything. I don’t think they ever watch them.” Clearly this is a red flag showing us where we can do better.

All this might sound pretty grim; but honestly I don’t think it is, and that was my third lesson. These were all kids who had not known each other before the summit, they had a six year range in ages, they had a lot that was not in common. But the sympathy and understanding they had for each other, the real concern and desire to help each other was truly remarkable. I mentioned reading that studies had shown that the most effective way to stop bullying was when another student stepped in and stood up for the victim. That set of another series of stories about how each of them had seen something and stood up for another student, sometimes even for a student they did not know. Several talked about making an effort to be friends with bullied students, and they all talked about their particular unhappiness when the student being bullied had a disability.

It did my heart good to see that there are a lot of students out there who do care about each other and who are willing to do things to ensure their classmates don’t face things like bullying and discrimination because of their disabilities. But, it does mean work for us as parents and educators. We need to ensure that our kids’ schools provide their students with an educational environment where they can succeed. We need to work together as partners to ensure our students understand how we are working together to protect them. We need to ensure that students with disabilities are spending as much time as possible with their peers so the human relations have a chance to develop. And we need to ensure that our schools are training and reminding all students that they are a community and they have the ability to protect and nurture each other.

Acceptance, understanding and care for each of our students by each of our students will clearly go a long way to help make our schools safe and appropriate learning environments for all our kids. We know you all want that and we want to help, so please call us to see what we can do together.