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Montessori students take a stand against bullying

A group of Montessori students aged between nine and eleven have formed OASA: the Organization Against Student Abuse.
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Could a student-run group like OASA that offers support to those suffering from bullying be a stepping stone for victims to connect with authorities that can help?

20% of all children say they have been bullied. At Grand Rapids Montessori school, some students have decided to make an organized stand against bullying. “It’s not nice to see people being bullied, called names or feeling bad,” explains Qiqi Clark. Clark is one of a group of students aged between nine and eleven who have formed OASA: Organization Against Student Abuse.

Since their formation in January, the group has been focused on rallying support amongst their peers, making promotional posters and keeping records of specific incidents of bullying. “People come and tell us about bullying they have either witnessed or been a victim of,” adds the ten-year-old Clark. She estimates OASA now has four or five members in each class.

Riley Wilson, another founding member of OASA explains that his decision to start the group had a lot to do with the project his father is involved with, “Until Love is Equal,” a recent campaign to instate anti-discrimination laws for housing and employment in nearby Holland. Hearing about the apparent injustice caused by the absence of these laws got young Wilson thinking about some of the injustices in his own classroom. He hopes OASA can act as the “eyes and ears” of the teachers when they can’t be there in person.

Wilson helped to set up a drop-box where victims of bullying could provide anonymous accounts of any incidents they either witnessed or were involved in firsthand. Although the box has been victim to a few bullying incidents of its own, he is hoping to make it a more permanent and therefore secure fixture within the classroom.

Clark explains that even former bullies have joined the group. These members can “help others to understand [their motives]” she said, adding, “We remind them that they mustn’t bully anymore.” The group tries to meet most lunchtimes but Clark admits they can go “off track” with their objectives. “Birthday parties, homework and classes” can get in the way but Clark adds that she and other members of the group have started trying to maneuver play dates with one another so they can “make more posters.”

Clark would like the group to continue to grow and ultimately for all students to find a way to get along with one another and all help to minimize bullying within the school. Although the group has many members, all of whom she says are extremely helpful to the cause, Clark is eager to mention record keeper Erion Adams and general helper Jayla Reyes.

Wilson hopes that the group will instigate change on a larger scale. He suspects that the short recess hours Montessori keeps might be contributing towards certain bullying. “Children have too much energy, and they take it out in class,” he explains. “It is a difficult cycle” that he hopes to help alleviate. Wilson and others recently prepared a petition in which they hope to garner support for longer recess hours and ultimately to keeps students “calmer in class."

Clark believes OASA has helped so far, mainly in terms of students having contemporaries to confide in. The group hasn't yet formalized a way to get the information they're gathering on to school staff. Clark hopes the group will be able to work more closely with teachers and staff in the future. “Teachers aren’t used to us yet; we are hoping to get them more involved.”

Wilson agrees that current efforts have been helpful, causing bullies to more fully "consider what they are doing." Wilson's father, who has watched OASA from its beginnings, is impressed with the students' efforts. “Watching Riley translate these concerns into some action that has been constructive and cooperative with school leaders, that's been a big source of pride.”

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