A City Education: Boosting Student Achievement Through Bullying Prevention
Through A City Education, City Year corps members share their experiences working as tutors and mentors in schools in hopes of closing the opportunity gap and ending the dropout crisis.
Words and name-calling can carry all the impact and pain of a fist, but the damage isn't always visible to the naked eye. DoSomething.org reports that as many as one in seven students in grades K-12 was either a bully or a victim of bullying in 2012, while one in 10 students drop out of school due to repeated bullying. October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, an opportunity to reflect on this issue that continues to plague our schools—and it helps me put my role into perspective.
The relationships City Year AmeriCorps members develop with our students often give us insight into their lives that others in a school wouldn't be privy to. Because we're closer in age to the students we serve, we form relationships with students that are different from the ones they have with teachers and counselors.
My teammate Jeffrey, who's serving with City Year for a second year, made the decision to return because he saw the power in these relationships and believed there was still much more he could offer his students. One student in particular was the driving force behind this.
"Rick" is a bright, kind, 14-year old sophomore at Mendez High School. He is also a returning member of our after school program. "It’s where I get my work done, homework help, and it's somewhere to just have fun," he said. Fun in a safe place is exactly what Jeffrey thought his student needed when he noticed Rick was being bullied in his algebra class.
Rick is among 161,484 English Language Learners in the Los Angeles Unified School District. He, his two sisters, and parents immigrated to the United States just before Rick entered high school. He describes his first month at Mendez as "weird and confusing." Overwhelmed by learning a new language in a place very far from home, Rick was singled out by his classmates. "They made fun of the way I sounded when I spoke English. I said words differently," Rick said. His quiet exterior shielded the discomfort he felt in the classroom amongst his peers.
According to stopbullying.gov, one of the telltale signs that a child is being bullied is a change in the quality of their school work. Jeffrey was working with Rick in his algebra, biology, and English classes, and noticed a correlation between the times he was being bullied and a drop in his test scores. Jeffrey noticed that even though Rick needed help, he was extremely hesitant about seeking it from his teachers for fear of being singled out by his classmates for his accent.
Reserved, quiet, and shy himself, Jeffrey was empathetic to Rick’s struggle. In fact, overcoming these challenges were at the root of Jeffrey's decision to return to City Year. "My shyness held me back from making the impact I wanted to make," he said. Jeffrey took initiative and reached out to the struggling freshman individually on a regular basis. Through their daily check-ins, Jeffrey convinced Rick to join our After School Program, a place where he felt safe and was able to thrive.
Recognizing similar qualities in his near-peer mentor empowered Rick. By helping him realize his academic talents and appreciate his personal strengths, Jeffrey was able to build up Rick's overall confidence, having a vast impact on his grades and his social life. With Jeffrey's guidance, he was able to defend himself and eventually befriend his former tormenters. He even started helping them with their classwork!
Jeffrey was able to empower Rick just as much as Rick empowered him. In addition to his newfound confidence and comfort at school, the culmination of Rick's hard work resulted in a huge improvement to his GPA—from a 2.5 in the fall, to a 3.7 at the end of the school year.
Today, college-bound Rick is thriving in his studies and has a strong support system of friends and City Year corps members. I recently asked him about college. With a big smile on his face, he looked over his shoulder and pointed right at his City Year corps member. "I would like to attend Cal Tech, or UCLA… anywhere I can study math." He and Jeffrey are currently working on preparation for Rick's California High School Exit Exam and building a strong resumé for his college applications to come.
Rick's story is just one example of what can happen when we ensure students have a safe and welcoming learning environment. But, given the statistics, we know there are still far too many students who continue to suffer because of bullying in schools. We encourage you to learn more about what you can do to end this epidemic. For kids like Rick, your taking action makes all the difference.
Ending bullying begins with you so click here to commit to learning more about how to prevent it.
Photo courtesy of City Year Los Angeles
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