Port City Notebook

News, views and random observations around Alexandria

Bullying Prevention Begins at Lunch

by Sarah Markel, guest blogger

When it comes to social interaction, the middle school years are tough. That’s why George Washington and Hammond Middle Schools are celebrating Mix It Up at Lunch Day on Tuesday, October 29. Each campus is taking a different approach. At Hammond, Mix It Up at Lunch is a school-wide initiative. GW students must sign up with their counselors to participate.

Mix It Up at Lunch Day is a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. This year, more than 6,000 schools are taking part in the program designed to increase social tolerance by encouraging kids to sit with someone new during lunch. The (official) goal is to encourage different social groups to interact with one another. According to one ACPS middle school counselor, however, Mix It Up at Lunch also provides a way to reduce and prevent bullying. It can help shy students and those who are new to the school, including incoming sixth graders, to make friends and expand their social circle.

October is…busy!

The trouble is, Mix It Up at Lunch Day comes at the tail end of a month that’s jam-packed with student wellness initiatives. October is Bullying Prevention Month and National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Red Ribbon Week, a drug-prevention campaign, is celebrated during the last full week of the month (this year October 21-29). Then there are National Fire Prevention and School Lunch Weeks, both of which are observed earlier in the month.

It’s easy for a small program like Mix It Up at Lunch to get lost. That would be sad because, according to stopbullying.gov, 28% of students in grades 6-12 are bullied. Bullying is most likely to happen on the school bus, in the hallways, on the play ground, and—you guessed it—in the cafeteria.

What Can Parents do?

Mix It Up at Lunch only works if enough students participate. GW and Hammond counselors will be in the cafeterias on Tuesday encouraging individual students to “mix it up.” Parents can help ensure the success of the program by:

  • Talking it up at home.  (Encourage your GW students to sign up for Mix It Up at Lunch.)
  • Emphasizing the importance of friendliness as an important step in reducing and preventing bullying.
  • Validating their anxiety about leaving the comfort of their inner circle. One way to make this easier is to give them the language to do so. “Can I sit with you?” is usually all it takes, but that question puts the asker in a painfully vulnerable position. Inviting someone else to join their group offers an easier alternative, with less potential downside.
  • Reminding them that there is always the risk that their overtures will be rejected. Not everyone will get the memo about kindness. The important thing is to try.

Mix It Up at Lunch Day isn’t designed to change the culture of a school overnight. It’s about getting the conversation started. When it comes to bullying prevention, that conversation often starts at home.

For information on how to talk to kids about bullying, go to http://www.stopbullying.gov/prevention/talking-about-it/index.html.

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Sarah Markel is a freelance medical writer who specializes in consumer health education. Visit her website at www.markelcommunications.com.

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