ROSWELL, Ga. — One local program is empowering students to address bullying from the ground up.
Be the Voice, a nonprofit organization founded in 2014 at the Roswell Rotary, brings unique campaigns to area schools that target issues of bullying by focusing on the bystander as one who can intercede on behalf of the victim.
“Our approach is all about supporting the victim, so the bully can’t get mad at anybody who is just being kind to whoever they are picking on,” said Debbie Cwalina, executive director of Be the Voice. “We are not an anti- anything. We are pro-compassion, pro-inclusion, pro-kindness. It’s a very high energy, contemporary program. And the students love it.”
But what really makes the program stand out from its peers it is that it is almost entirely student-led, Cwalina said.
“Most anti-bullying programs have been implemented by adults with a lot of finger wagging, she said. “This approach has had very short-term success, if any, over the last 20 years of anti-bullying programs… The core of Be the Voice is the belief that students are the true agents of change when it comes to bullying.”
The Be the Voice program is a three-month campaign, consisting of 12 videos, led by students and school clubs. One club will initially bring Be the Voice to a school and involve 11 other student organizations, like the football team or math club. Each organization concentrates on one of the videos to create an introduction and approach that fits students’ needs.
“It makes the entire school become a part of this initiative,” Cwalina said. “Everybody has a little ownership of it and interest in making the school a better, safer climate for all.”
The videos also target forms of silent bullying, including exclusion and cyber bullying, and incorporate everyday students along with celebrities and athletes.
The three-month format, Cwalina said, is intentional.
“Studies have shown that successful behavior modifications require repeating a specific behavior pattern for a period of three to six months,” she said. “With enough repetition, all of the related brain cells involved in the activity eventually connect, so the new behavior becomes an ingrained pattern.”
At the end of the three months, the student organizations involved in the program will select several of their peers to be recognized as a Very Important Voice who has made a difference during that time.
The messages and skill students pick up from Be the Voice can be used throughout their lives, not just in school.
“Bullies don’t magically disappear after graduation,” Cwalina said. “They become roommates, coworkers, bosses, neighbors. The communication skills the students learn through our program really take them through the rest of their life and will benefit them as they go through the different phases of adulthood.”
Be the Voice campaigns are available and customized for all school levels — elementary, middle, and high. Some of the past participating area schools include Roswell High School, Centennial High School, North Springs High School, Elkins Pointe Middle School, Crabapple Middle School, The Cottage School and Mountain Park Elementary.
For more information on Be the Voice, visit be-the-voice.org.