Friday, December 20, 2013

Teen Leaders Digging Deeper While Facing the Problem of Bullying in School

As students courageously faced one another in an activity called “Digging Deeper” during a 3 hour workshop at Sutter Middle School in Folsom, CA, the threads of commonality were being sewn between them. They were participating “full out” and exposing some of the things they usually keep below the surface, hidden in their tangled roots.  And now they were awakening to the fact that each of us have “lots of stuff” buried down there, some of us have more than others, and some of us have it perhaps worse off than others. For some, for the first time, those who exposed their roots felt the compassion and support from the others across the room who were sending the sign language gesture to express “I love you” or “I care about you”.  When we take the time to learn one another’s stories through the eyes and hearts of compassion, then we can begin to understand the enormous challenges that each of us faces on a daily basis. These are the seeds of compassion when we see the pain, and decide to treat one other more gently and kinder, with more patience, tolerance, respect and understanding.

“I am so glad you moved here!” Kevin Garmston, Vice Principal of Sutter Middle School told Dee DiGioia, founder of Caring and Courageous Kids, a when they first met just a few months ago.  Kevin said this middle school is one of the largest in the area with over 1,400 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students and he is not afraid to admit there is a bullying problem.  According to a recent school survey, about half the students agree that bullying is a problem at school!  Kevin described a program they used successfully in the past with some marked success, based on the framework where students who have natural leadership abilities in their peer groups are selected by teachers to participate in the program, and help to inspire stand up to help stop bullying and be a positive influence in their social groups. It was discontinued due to the high cost of the company offering it.  The format was a natural fit for Dee who is author of “One Caring and Courageous Choice at a Time” and producer of an original movie/story for elementary school aged students (on dvd), whose mission it is to inspire a more compassionate culture by having a caring and courageous heart to stand up and do the right thing. Approximately thirty 6th grader students and thirty 7th grade students are participating in the pilot program which is being funded by the Sutter Middle School Parent-Teacher Organization. 

Caring and Courageous Kids was founded on the premise of compassion in 2009. In fact, a compassion movement is on the rise all across the globe. What exactly is Compassion? It’s using one’s own pain and experiences or empathy when seeing another who is hurting or suffering, and then taking action to do something to help them feel safer, cared for, respected, happier and taking action to prevent it from happening again. How do we inspire it? By bringing people together, talking about it, discussing strategies and guidelines to more successful, modeling it, and practicing it over and over as opportunities arise (and they will)!

By the end of the three hour Digging Deeper workshop, students were getting WOW’ed:

W = Waking up:
Our eyes (and hearts) have been opened to notice the problem of bullying, and seeing, or noticing, what needs to change. This awareness is only the beginning. We can’t just know what we want or don’t want, and we can’t just know what needs to change. We have to actively contribute to being the agents of change or we will remain stuck in the victimization, and/or complaining and blaming. After waking up we have also stretch

O = Opening our hearts:
Compassion is like concentric circles. It begins with self, and moves out wider to include compassion for those close to us (family and friends), and challenging ourselves to  having compassion for even wider circles of to those not as close to us (at school, in the community) and even wider out  into the world. When we practice opening our hearts by digging deeper in our understanding of others, we are stretching our boundaries and beliefs and taking responsibility do something about the problem of bullying. By opening our hearts we are breaking the old negative patterns in our thoughts, words, and actions with healthier, happier, safer patterns.  Waking up and stretching are the beginning. Now it’s time to get up!

W = Walking the path to be the change:
Choose to get up and take action towards creating positive outcomes when faced with negativity in bullying situations. Here is where a leader or champion stands out by standing up and being willing to do what’s right, not just for self, but for others. Leaders take this path even if it means doing it alone and even if it’s not the popular choice.  Compassion is taking action to prevent or alleviate the pain or suffering of another. Once we have awakened the Champion’s spirit, we have an opportunity to be the change, break down the barriers, and create a whole new beginning together one caring and courageous choice at a time in the words we speak and the things we do for one another. We can say something and do something when we see bullying. Create ripples and WOW others.

Many of the students shared how they were WOW’ed during the course of the day by saying what was most meaningful to them about the day or how they would like to commit to helping to stop the culture of bullying to a culture of caring and compassion. Each enthusiastically agreed to get Compassion-Fit and join the Circles of Compassion humaniteam: Sutter Middle School Cougar Compassion Club!

7th grade Cougar Compassion Club

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Dee DiGioia resides in El Dorado Hills, CA and is currently teaching "Circles of Compassion" Teen Leadership program at Sutter Middle School in Folsom, CA

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