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Youth Take the Lead in Greendale to Confront Bullying

Every district, school, and teacher leader knows about, and stops bullying when they see it. Those who look the other way need to develop the courage it takes to stand up for the rights of others and honor the dignity that everyone deserves. In Greendale, youth are taking the lead and are speaking out. Students are standing up for one another in a united effort to reduce and eliminate bullying in their school.

Last summer, Greendale educators along with parent groups and civic and religious leaders decided to take on bullying and pushed Greendale Schools to work to close gaps in school climate in the district. Little did anyone know that this fall, Greendale Schools would be would be front and center on this topic in schools and communities.

Educators and parent/civic leaders understood that paying attention to bullying and hurtful actions are helpful to youth and children in finding their niche. They sought to isolate behaviors like bullying that are counterproductive to learning, and in doing so promote a better school climate. Simply put, children and youth in bully-free climates are better learners.

The traditional approach for addressing a hot button topic is training and white papers. In Greendale Schools, we began to engage youth, parents and school leaders to ratchet up the effort to eliminate bullying in schools. The traditional articles, handouts and workshops were all in the works in Greendale.

Then, something interesting happened. In November, I was walking through Greendale Middle School and was greeted by a series of student-created posters addressing bullying head-on. Students had assumed the responsibility for taking action on bullying and used their creativity and sense of responsibility to help themselves and their peers. Critical mass had been reached through the power of student-to-student communication.

Eighth graders at Greendale Middle School used their Art Service Club and worked together with other students to address the school climate. They created an awareness campaign to increase understanding of the impact of bullying and created clear indicators of good behavior. They continue to work together to bring that message to their friends and fellow students.

The youth also developed a presentation, click here to download.

Here are some of the ideas Greendale 8th graders came up with:
  • Keep responding and reporting separate. Never ever let bad behavior go by. Ignoring it doesn’t make it better. It sanctions and extends it.
  • To get youth and children to stand up and deal with bullying towards them or when they see it, adults have to engage and connect with their students.
  • Recognize and pay attention to patient, kind and friendly behaviors. Build and enhance a school, district or classroom climate that builds in support for youth and children.
  • Bring youth and children into the school’s leadership. Look for and find a group of youth that are standing up and support them. Empower their voice, let them show and teach others how to confront bad behavior.
  • Accept others differences and don’t judge by appearances. Look for the good and confront bad or inappropriate behavior or attitudes.
  • Be just by showing moral excellence – what more can one say about that?
  • Show unity and be unified in the effort to confront bullying and bad words that spew hate. – As Greendale middle school students say, “Be Unified.”
No one will say bullying should be expected, or that it makes one a better person. In fact, only a bully would make such a claim. Sadly, some adults will look the other way if the culture of the school allows them to. Schools that instill a culture of paying attention to school climate are better places for learning.

Children and youth attending any school have a hard enough job focusing on learning, navigating their way through media culture, and finding their niche in the school and community. Many schools are good at educating students but every one of us in positions of school leadership know we can do a better job of developing strong school climates by taking a thoughtful stand against any hurtful behavior. We improve overall citizenship by empowering children and youth to take an active role in responding to and eliminating hurtful relationships. A class, school or district that is paying attention to school climate, more specifically - bullying - is on its way to getting it right for more children and youth.

In the Greendale Schools, we are relentless in building a sense of responsibility in our youth and children. We need to counter the effects of bullying with a centered, engaged culture. We need to provide youth with the tools and disposition to tackle it. We want -- and the community should expect -- students to be responsible citizens and to attend school in a positive climate so that our youth learn and achieve more.

The tips these middle school students developed to counter and prevent bullying show students can face bullying head-on and make a real difference. This presentation “Take a Stand Against Bullying” created and produced by Greendale 8th graders, throws another tool in the toolbox and shows that students can take an active role in creating a better life for themselves and others. Standing up for one another leads everyone to a happier and more meaningful life.

Image: William Hughes
About the author: Dr. William Hughes has worked in education for  31 years as a teacher, principal, superintendent of schools. He has served as Superintendent of the Greendale School District in Greendale, Wisconsin for the past 14 years. Greendale is a garden community and one of three greenbelt communities in the United States. It is a suburban district of about 2,600 students located in the Milwaukee metro area; an area known for high achieving schools.  Greendale is known for its high level of student achievement with over 90 percent of graduates attending higher education institutions, ongoing community engagement on multiple levels, along with collaborative relationships with bargaining groups while retaining a focus on children, service, citizenship and learning. He is a former board member of the Milwaukee Area Technical College, a member of the National School Climate Council, board member of the National Center for Learning and Citizenship and adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

You can contact William Hughes at

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