Excerpt from "Trust Kids"

Anacortes                       (Geoff’s story)

“Three of us oversaw an after school program funded by the school district. Me, Jim and Nancy, all volunteers. Jim and Nancy were teachers. I ran a small boat charter, whale watch service. We involved kids aged 12-16 in outdoor projects focusing on the bounty of our shoreline. We had our company tour boat that we could use to cruise close to shore or to scoot out to one of the islands for different marine projects. Usually 18-20 kids showed up four times a week after school. A few more than that would join us on Saturday when we would cap the day with a meal cooked over the fire pit.
Things were running pretty good until we received a complaint from one girl’s mom that her daughter had been bullied. I’d been working with kids long enough to realize that when girls bullied each other it was much harder to recognize, and stem, then when boys would pick on a kid. We tried to watch the kids closely after the mom’s complaint but I couldn’t detect anything out of the ordinary.
The mom complained again saying she would take it to the school council if we didn’t do something about it. We didn’t know what “it” was and the mom wouldn’t allow us to talk directly to her daughter about it.  Not knowing exactly what to do we tossed it to the kids to see what they might think.
In the past we had done some readings together as a group. We had looked at various survival books with accompanying stories of survival. On afternoons that kept us indoors we would occasionally watch some of the TV survival programs to give the kids some entertainment and some education. What I had in mind was to set up the bullying issue within our group and see what the kids said. Maybe they could come up with something to read together that would give us some base line from which we could tackle the problem.
That is what we did. We pulled all the kids together one Saturday morning in our community center room, where we kept our stuff and had snacks, when the weather was inhospitable. I told them there was a terrible case of bullying going on in a school outside of Seattle. It got so bad one kid attacked another with a knife. I shared that bullying seemed to be part of growing up that we all wanted to forget, particularly if we were on the receiving end. I asked an open question to see if any of them felt like they had ever been bullied. I was shocked to see how many hands went up.
Nancy told a story of how she had been bullied at her middle school to such a level she begged her parents to change schools. She shared that she never told the school principal who was behind it. It stopped when the ringleader started to pick on another girl. She said most of the verbal attacks went on in the bathroom or at recess when teachers could not see what was going on. She said she was embarrassed that she never spoke up but understands why people are reluctant to speak up. She remembers what it was like to be afraid.
A number of kids told their stories. A fair amount of them were boys, which surprised a number of the kids, particularly the girls.
Geoff, aged 15, said he was with a group of kids back in Minnesota who used “kids in justice” which was the name given to a group of kids, randomly selected, that handed out “justice” to group members who had trespassed in various ways. He explained that one of his teachers had all the kids read, “Touching Spirit Bear” that dealt with a kid who was a very aggressive bully and thug. When he mentioned the book a number of the kids shouted out they had read it and how much they loved it. We kicked the theme around for a little while deciding we would all read the book as a group. Geoff said it had a lot of survival type info as well as the story of how this kid is dealt with by the community. I volunteered to go to the bookstore and get us enough copies to read. I said I would go while they were having lunch.
Geoff went on to explain that their justice group was based on tribal law, he forgot which tribe, in Canada that used a sacred rite of justice to correct or punish a member of the tribe who had broken their laws or offended another member of the tribe. He said the kids were all given a playing card, which they would write their name on with a marking pen. The cards were then put in the center of the group, shuffled, with four to six cards being drawn by someone who had no affiliation with the group. That would be easy as there were a number of people in the center who could do a drawing. I said I would get the cards during lunch if the kids wanted to go forward. We took a vote. One hundred percent raised their hands.
The bookstore only had five copies of  “Touching Spirit Bear” so I put in an order for twenty more. The clerk said they would arrive on Wednesday, which was good enough. I bought two sets of playing cards and an assortment of markers.
When I got back to the group they were all excited about the book and setting up some sort of peer justice league to deal with problems we had obviously missed. It was a little embarrassing to realize the kids were having issues none of us knew anything about. When we assembled I asked if we needed any leader to oversee the justice group? Most of the kids pointed to Geoff who agreed to be the “consultant.” We wrapped the day with a meal of halibut and salmon cooked on the grill. Kids tossed on spuds, onions and peppers to round out the feast.
On Wednesday morning I picked up the books. When the kids arrived after school the numbers of attendees had swelled by eleven new members. Geoff told us these kids were drawn to the group by the lively conversation at school about our group, our outdoor activities and how we were going to deal with challenges like bullying.
I passed out the books with a promise to buy ten more. We agreed to read the first two chapters by tomorrow. I allowed Geoff to form the circle, oversee the name writing on the cards, shuffle them and the invitation to one of the center’s staff to pull six cards. Once the cards were drawn Geoff read out the names asking them to step out of the circle. He explained that they were the judges but that they were not supreme. They had to further pick from the remaining cards “Advisors” who would counsel each judge on their decisions. The judges would then have to agree on any final outcome. The “advisors” could negotiate with the other judges “advisors” to try to convince that judge of a particular action. Geoff impressed on the kids that they were all in and all valuable. There was a lot of excitement and we broke feeling we could take on anything.
Geoff stuck around to talk with us about how to bring up the bullying issue. He was more diplomatic than we were, as we wanted to dump it on the table, say it was forbidden and blah blah blah if we saw or heard anything about anyone being bullied. He wanted to bring it up as a topic of conversation allowing the group to define bullying and any punishment for it.
At out next meeting Geoff ran the show. He introduced the subject drawing on the character in the book. (Most of the kids were half way through the book so we agreed we’d finish it by Saturday). He asked kids to define bullying making notes on the butcher paper he had hung up on the wall. The kids were very enthusiastic and out spoken about what they wanted to happen to anyone who bullied. They were more draconian than we would have been insisting any kid who bullies should be put out of the group, reported to the school and the police. Believe it or not just about every kid agreed to those terms. There were lesser punishments for wise remarks, swearing, rough housing etc. Some of them were quite funny involving carrying around dead fish in a burlap bag for an afternoon, cleaning the dishes in the Sound, wearing clothing backwards and being ignored by everyone for a day. The silent treatment! Geoff added one new idea just as the kids were going to break up. He had all but the judges toss their cards back in the pile. He asked Nancy to draw two cards, until they were all gone, putting them in separate stacks. He explained that these couples would look out for each other no matter what. They were more than partners – they were bound to protect and support each other. The kids loved it. Not one of them seemed disappointed by the pairings. Some boys were with a girl partner; some older kids were with a younger kid. Did not seem to matter, they all embraced it-
The book was a great success. We had great group activities around the characters, the relationships and the actions of each character and how we might learn from what they did in the story. Every kid played a role in the conversation. Every kid seemed to grow in confidence from meeting to meeting. Geoff didn’t have to do too much with the judges because very little needed to be judged. There were the occasional out bursts and shoving matches that resulted in a kid carrying around a bag of fish for an afternoon or doing the dishes in freezing cold water. All in all things were great.
Thanks to Geoff speaking up, and stepping up, I think we have found a way for kids to deal with most issues that they want dealt with in a fair way by their peers. For us Geoff has made our “job” much easier.”

The Book can be ordered through Lulu Publishing

No comments:

Post a Comment