Program teaches students about bullying, stereotypes

PELHAM – A group of Pelham Park Middle School students learned about the power their words can have during Outside-In Day on Wednesday, Oct. 18. Students spent the entire day learning about stereotypes, abuse, prejudice, bullying and the impact that bullying can have on others.

Outside-In Day, which is sponsored by Camp Fire USA, was developed in response to a rise in bullying situations, said Kelly Koncsol, Camp Fire USA character development program manager.

Pelham High School Peer Helpers, a group of 10-12 graders who have been entrusted to help guide younger students, led the group discussions with PPMS students.

“The message speaks volumes when it’s coming from a peer who was in their shoes just a few years ago,” Konscol said.

Koncsol said the peer helpers received a day of training to learn how to lead the games and discussions.

A diverse group of PPMS students, representing different academic levels, socioeconomic levels, races and gender, participated in the program. The goal was to gather a complete variation of the student body.

The day started with fun icebreakers aimed at improving communication skills and helping the students get to know each other. Then students were divided into smaller groups and discussed topics such as stereotyping and bullying.

“They learned about different types of bullying, how to identify bullying and ways to combat bullying situations whether you’re the bully, being bullied or a witness to bullying,” Koncsol said.

Twelfth-grade peer helper Mason Goolsby said being able to have an impact on younger students is a great feeling.

“For me in middle school, I was so intimidated by high school students and it’s cool to be able to let them know that they don’t have to be afraid of us because we’re here to help,” Goolsby said.

Goolsby, who has been a peer helper for three years, said there have been times when he’s had to report situations shared with him during Outside-In Day.

“There have been times when a kid shared problems going on at home,” Goolsby said. “It’s happened twice since I’ve been doing this.”

Goolsby said the training the peer helpers receive prior to Outside-In Day helps prepare them for tough conversations.

“It does help to have multiple perspectives because there’s multiple peer helpers in a group,” he said. “We let them know that they have our support and we encourage them to talk to the counselors.”

Eighth-grade participant Miyah Reese, who had issues with bullying in elementary and in the seventh grade, said the program really opened her eyes because she got to know some of her peers in a different way.

“People that I thought were rude and mean – it turns out they’re really nice,” she said. “All you have to do is get to know them.”

Reese said she now wants to be a peer helper in the future.

“I really want to help others because I went through it too so I can relate to how they feel,” she said.

Konscol said the goal was for students to walk away from the experience understanding that everyone deserves to be included and to not exclude anyone just because they might be different.