Waking Up Courage in Students – It Works!

September 25 2013


  • Erica Vogel, Director of Strategic Relations
    Erica Vogel
    Director of Strategic Relations

Bullying, cyberbullying and harassment has become a reality for far too many kids in our nation’s schools. 

As educators, parents and the overall adult community we have addressed this growing concern by implementing tools, policies and procedures that focus primarily on security.  However, all too often, schools have left out a population and voice that is critical in making systemic change to prevent, de-escalate and stop mistreatment.  Security measures such as metal detectors, bulletproof white boards, and security guards are necessary to reduce the physical weapons that students bring to school, but without student voice and empowerment we cannot change the culture in a school system.

Adults make the rules, but the students set the norms on a school campus.  So how can we, as adults, empower students to positively impact the school climate?  For the past 12 years, Community Matters has begun this change process through our flagship program Safe School Ambassadors. 

The Safe School Ambassadors program wakes up the courage of socially influential students to stand up and speak up against the mistreatment that has become the norm in far too many schools.  It is time that adults treat students as contributors, not just as consumers.  It is time that we partner with the largest population of the school community to be the change agents.  Through Safe School Ambassadors, we are equipping, empowering and engaging diverse student leaders to safely and effectively speak up when they see or hear their friends or classmates say or do something mean. 

The good news is that IT WORKS!  In a recent study, an evaluation of the SSA program found that when the program was implemented as designed, SSA schools showed a drop in suspension rates of 33%, while suspension rates in non-SSA schools increased 10% during the same years.  Schools also continually share their own anecdotal results with Community Matters, indicating marked improvements in school climate, attendance rates, student engagement, suspension rates and more.

As a parent, I know and understand the challenges that students are faced with, and standing up for your friends can be a hard choice to make, especially if you are not sure that others will stand with you.  Which is why the SSA program recruits students that already have the social capital to make a difference in their own peer group, which creates a ripple effect.  For every Ambassador that chooses to de-escalate or interrupt a situation that can lead to long-lasting impact on a target – they are modeling the courage to take action to their peers. Their actions naturally begin to change the norm from students standing by and watching as mistreatment occurs, to speaking up.

In these times of increasing uncertainty and violence, it is hopeful to know there is a solution.  And it is our job as adults, to help wake up courage in students to impact their own schools and communities.  Students are waiting; we just need to give them the tools, skills, opportunity and support to be the leaders we know they can become.

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