Outside In Day at PPMS promotes inclusion

PELHAM – It’s been said that middle school is a trying time for most students. In the midst of figuring out who they are and who they want to be, students are also experiencing puberty and feeling the pressure to fit in.

Kelly Koncsol, program manager with Camp Fire Alabama, said it’s also a time when a lot of students experience bullying.

On Thursday, Oct. 10, a group of 65 students at Pelham Park Middle School spent the entire school day learning about tolerance, stereotypes and the impact that bullying can have on others as part of Outside-In Day.

Sponsored by Camp Fire Alabama, the goal of Outside-In Day is to give kids a better understanding of what a bullying situation looks like and how to combat it, Koncsol said.

“This program started in response to a rise of incidents of bullying, intimidation and exclusion,” Koncsol said. “We want everyone to feel included and to be able to identify bullying and have the tools to combat it. We’re also breaking down stereotypes, prejudices and cliques and teaching kids how they can be more inclusive and make new friends.”

Koncsol said the students are educated on the different kinds of bullying, especially cyberbullying because it’s become so prevalent among today’s adolescents.

The day started with icebreaker games and then students divided into smaller discussion groups led by Peer Helpers from Pelham High School. Conversation topics started off light, but as the day progressed the topics got deeper. The 32 PHS Peer Helpers received training from Koncsol prior to the event to learn how to lead the discussion groups.

Although the Peer Helpers are supposed to be the teachers and leaders during Outside In Day, Erin Long, a PHS senior who has been a Peer Helper for three years, said she learns a lot from the middle school students as well.

“I’ve learned from them how bullying has evolved on social media,” Long said. “It wasn’t quite as prominent when I was in middle school.”

Long said she likes how the program provides a platform for a diverse group of students to come together and find common ground.

“Everyone can find something to connect with,” she said. “By the end of the day I hope they (middle school students) leave knowing that it’s OK to be different. I hope they (middle school students) can get something out of it and put action to it in their daily lives.”

Eighth-grader Morgan Lankford said the program has helped her learn how to express herself more. Although she’s never been bullied, she said she sometimes feels excluded.

“I have a quiet personality so sometimes I feel excluded or forgotten,” she said.

Lankford, who also attended Outside In Day last year, said the program taught her how to express those feelings to the people around her. Lankford said she makes an effort to include others and to befriend new students because she understands how it feels to be excluded.

“I’m really glad I’m able to be a part of it, and I really want to continue it through high school by becoming a Peer Helper,” she said.