AFT's Anti-Bullying Campaign Kicks into High Gear

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With the express goals of celebrating differences and saving children's lives, the AFT's "See a Bully, Stop a Bully: Make a Difference" campaign is about to zoom into a series of events nationwide that will continue through the start of the new school year. Launched this spring in collaboration with the White House, education groups and other advocacy organizations, the campaign offers various ways to stop bullies in their tracks.

"When kids are bullied and think they have no one in their corner, it has serious and dangerous consequences," from social isolation to suicide, says AFT president Randi Weingarten. "We're trying to do something about that."

The union and our partners joined forces to fight bullying last fall (see earlier story) and already have launched initiatives, while laying the groundwork for new events. In February, the AFT worked with the National Education Association, along with groups of school counselors, psychologists and special educators, to plan anti-bullying programs. The union also has partnered with online businesses interested in curbing bullying behavior. Google provided an online safety curriculum for dissemination to AFT members, and Connect Safely together with Facebook shared a parents' guide on the safe use of social media for their children.

In March, Weingarten and AFT vice president Mary Armstrong took part in a White House conference on bullying prevention. Weingarten also has attended a series of coast-to-coast gay and lesbian media awards programs, and has recorded a video as part of the "It Gets Better" campaign to help defend gay and lesbian students against taunts and abuse. (See earlier story.) The AFT has been working closely with the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) to raise public awareness about bullying, and GLAAD has quickly been adding more big names—including Chaz Bono, Rashida Jones, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Amy Poehler—to its roster of celebrities who are recording public service announcements.

Also in May, the AFT executive council heard from Kerry Kennedy, author of a book on human rights and daughter of former U.S. attorney general Robert Kennedy. She spoke of a human rights curriculum, "Speak Truth to Power," and a New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) campaign, the Child Labor Challenge, in which secondary students learn about how child laborers are used to help produce chocolate in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. During that campaign, some students went trick-or-treating at Halloween and handed out information about child labor in exchange for the chocolate bars they received. One unanticipated result of the curriculum, Kennedy told the council, was a drop in bullying—and it's not even an anti-bullying curriculum.

In early June, the U.S. Education Department, in conjunction with the AFT, presented a webinar by assistant deputy secretary Kevin Jennings on how to keep kids feeling safe, secure and free of harassment so they can reach their full academic potential. The AFT has done other outreach on bullying, such as this year's Netroots Nation and the Mom Congress.

What's next? AFT's TEACH conference in July will feature a mini-plenary and a number of workshops on bullying. The AFT is helping promote a documentary by filmmaker Lee Hirsch, "The Bully Project," through a partial screening at AFT TEACH and also through film festivals and National Bullying Prevention Month in October.

In August, Delta Airlines and Virgin America will launch in-flight public service announcements featuring AFT members who have thwarted bullies. The union also is hosting a webinar in September on cyberbullying.

During National Bullying Prevention Month, Robert McGarry, director of training and curriculum development for the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), who spoke at the AFT's Celebration of Teaching and Learning conference this spring, will conduct a webinar sponsored by GLSEN.

On the state and local levels, AFT affiliates in Michigan and Mississippi are presenting one-day conferences on bullying, and Texas AFT is devoting part of its annual convention this month to adult bullying, including a presentation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on how adults sometimes act like bullies in the workplace—negative lessons that unfortunately are not lost on students. NYSUT will feature keynote speaker Jamie Nabozny and his Teaching Tolerance video, "Bullied," during its Northeast regional conference in November.

For resources and updates to help your members in anti-bullying efforts, including free wristbands and posters, visit the AFT's "See a Bully, Stop a Bully: Make a Difference" campaign. [Annette Licitra]

June 16, 2011