Bullies are a longstanding part of popular culture, for example, Nelson “Ha ha!” Muntz on The Simpsons; Bluto, Popeye’s nemesis; and Regina George in Mean Girls, to name just a few. But, while pretend bullies can be entertaining, that’s not the case for the cruel day-to-day bullying that can occur in schools.
A new program at Sayre High School, which recently received a Penn Medicine CAREs Foundation grant, is combating these issues. A three-week anti-bullying course -- one class per week -- is now part of the high school’s year-long seminar course that teaches all ninth graders skills for high school success. “It’s such a transition for freshmen to come into a new social environment, to be the low man on the totem pole,” said Kiasha Huling, MSW, LSW
, clinical support therapist and director of Social Health Services, Sayre Health Center, and field instructor for Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2). The Anti-Bullying Project is a partnership among Sayre Health Center (located next to the high school), the School of Social Policy and Practice, and Penn Medicine.
Marcy Slick, a second-year SP2 student, conducted a needs assessment with Sayre High School staff which found that anti-bullying support in a freshman seminar would benefit the ninth graders throughout their high school years. Slick looked at different evidence-based curriculums and practices, and input from high school leadership, to tailor the lessons to the students. The module allows the ninth graders to engage in active role playing, story-telling, and other innovative ways of learning. “Being in front of that many students and finding a way to make it a meaningful experience for everyone was a challenge,” said Slick, who taught the module for one year. Another SP2 student will take the helm next year.
Jack Lewis, DSW, LCSW, director, Office of Diversity and Community Outreach, Perelman School of Medicine, was the catalyst in helping to secure much needed support. “We thought this would be a perfect way to partner and apply for a Penn Medicine CAREs grant,” he said.
After completing this curriculum, students are expected to identify different types of bullying, coping skills, and supporting parties at school they can turn to. The course discusses cyber bullying and other new trends directly impacting the approximately 119 students who have already completed the module.
“Marcy’s tremendous contribution, Kiasha’s leadership with the SP2 students, and Jack’s contribution to the Health Center and mentoring Keisha are what make the anti-bullying program so successful,” said Kent D. W. Bream, MD, associate director of Pre-doctoral Education, and assistant professor of Clinical Family Medicine and Community Health.
Pre-testing and post-testing have shown some early successes. “I’ve seen a student come in and say, ‘You know I wasn’t going to do that because that’s bullying,’ and ‘I don’t like her, but I’m not going to be a part of bullying her.’,” Huling said.
“A lot of kids said, ‘I like that you actually asked us what we thought, engaged us in role playing,’” Slick added. “That type of free flow doesn’t happen a lot at that age.”
“That’s what social work brings to the table. It’s not about teaching; it’s about engaging and empowering,” said Lewis.
Photo caption: Jack Lewis (second from left) presents Penn Medicine CAREs grant check to (from l to r) Kent D.W. Bream, Kiasha Huling, and Marcy Slick.