Thursday, June 27, 2013

Creating a Bully Free Environment

Suzanne Greenfield from the DC Office of Human Rights and Andrew Barnett (Executive Director of member org SMYAL and Anti-Bullying Taskforce member) joined DCAYA yesterday morning at our Community Convening to discuss the work to date of the District’s Anti-Bullying Task Force including some key provisions of the District's Youth Bullying Prevention Model Policy which will take effect this Fall.

Suzanne explained that the model policy somewhat deviates from the approach taken by other jurisdictions for two main reasons. First off many other jurisdictions focus on zero tolerance bullying policies that simple punish individuals who engage in bullying as a means of eliminating the problem. This approach however really only addresses bullying once it has already occurred and does not affect the root of the issue. Suzanne explained that this is problematic for several reasons, but highlighted that many young people report that they have both been a bully and been bullied. When communities attempt to address this issue with a purely punitive approach they do not take into account that bullying whether its physical, verbal, or electronically based, it is part of a larger cycle of conflict.

The purely punitive route also fails to provide individuals who engage in bullying with alternatives to the bullying behavior. For instance if a young person verbally abuses another young person and as a result gets suspended from a school or program the bully can recognize that getting caught for that behavior got them in trouble, but they may not realize that they really need to functionally change their behavior. To invoke some Rhett Butler they would be like “the thief who isn't the least bit sorry he stole, but is terribly, terribly sorry he's going to jail.”

The other big difference between DC’s model anti-bullying policy and the policies other jurisdictions have implemented is that it is aimed not just at school-based bullying but at citywide bullying prevention. The policy presented to the Mayor earlier this year aims to eliminate bullying in public libraries, parks, recreation centers, community based organizations and various other public spaces. This is incredibly important because while young people do spend a good amount of their time at school they also occupy their time with all kinds of activities and programs where bullying can also occur. While the city is not in a position to prevent bullying everywhere it occurs, it can do its due diligence in ensuring that at least the agencies and programs that are operated or funded with District funds have an eye towards prevention.

It’s for this reason that every government agency or community based organization that receives city funds will be required to formulate and implement their own bullying prevention policy by September 14 of 2013. This is obviously a very important tenant of the city’s anti-bullying work, but can also be a bit daunting for CBO’s, which is where DCAYA comes in. Check out our checklist below to make sure your organization or an organization you care about is in compliance:

1) Read Through the Anti-Bullying Model Policy! This document is lengthy, but is packed with useful resources about preventing bullying and how to manage bullying situations when they occur.

2) Talk to other CBOs or government agencies. As we noted earlier ALL CBOs and government agencies funded by the city are required to go through this process so if you have questions or concerns others do to. Andrew Barnett from SMYAL and a number of other DCAYA members that were at yesterday’s meeting offered up some great ideas and recommendations around implementing a good policy for your organization. If you’re currently involved in any of the DCAYA committees you have connections to other organizations built in, utilize them!

3) Get into contact with the DC Office on Human Rights. If you are currently receiving city funds you have probably already received an email from them regarding the requirement for an organizational policy regarding bullying, but if you haven’t, getting into contact with OHR sooner rather than later is a good plan.

4) Go back to the Model Policy, there are samples to work off of in the document’s appendices.

If after going through all these steps you are still at a loss, feel free to contact DCAYA and we are happy to help connect you with other resources!

Anne Abbott is the policy analyst at DCAYA. She swears, if the Anti-Bullying Policy was in place when she was a kid, she wouldn't have turned out like this guy <. 

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Disengaged and Non-Traditional Learners Can Thrive Through Summer Learning

Little known fact: I didn’t actually learn to read until I was nine years old. A combination of what was then diagnosed as dyslexia, a phonetic processing disorder (I still for the life of me cannot distinguish vowel sounds with any accuracy) and frankly a unique learning style, all left me at a significant disadvantage. School was, needless to say, a very stressful place. Homework time could best be described as an outright battle of wills between me and my (in hindsight, highly patient) parents.

This reality completely influenced how I spent my summers. My parents realized early on that I could not afford to sit idle during the 8 weeks of summer. So, while other kids went to sleep away camp, traveled with their family or roamed the woods of Vermont, I was in tutoring. During the early years, it was with a reading specialist matched by additional spelling and math work with a teacher from my elementary school. To say I perfected the art of non-violent protest during these sessions is an understatement. I would sit in silence and refuse to acknowledge the presence of the tutor with the finesse of a practiced CIA agent under interrogation.[1] Growing up in a family on a limited income, wasting expensive tutoring sessions was an untenable proposition for my parents.

That’s when they got creative (possibly manipulative). During the third grade I had heard about a local theater camp organized by a group of high school teachers for elementary and middle school aged students. I was enthralled until my mother gently pointed out it would be fairly difficult to participate if I couldn’t read the script. So, we struck a bargain. I could go to KidShow so long as I also participated in tutoring.

In an act of sheer brilliance, my parents found a summer opportunity that incentivized the horrific tutoring sessions and ensured that I practiced reading without the battles that had defined previous summers.  

The creativity my parents employed is a powerful parable. Did I need and benefit from the academic tutoring? Without question. But it was in KidShow that I thrived. For the first few summers, I remember re-reading the plays over and over again, practicing every word and eventually, sentences for hours. By the third summer, when my reading had improved and I had a speaking role, I began to learn memorization techniques and started to appreciate how the rules of grammar create the cadence of language: That a comma or semi-colon required a dramatic pause, or that an exclamation point suggested excitement or perhaps fear in the delivery of a line. KidShow not only gave me a reason to practice reading, it made it fun. It helped me discover learning strategies I still utilize today, and it built my confidence and willingness to keep trying even when faced with difficult and seemingly insurmountable tasks.

That’s the beauty of smart summer learning opportunities. Enrichment activities that blend in academic skills that can engage non-traditional learners and provide them the space to shine are priceless. They can give real world applicability to what seem – to many children and adolescents- to be entirely esoteric academic concepts. Physics takes on whole new levels of importance when learning to sail. Chemistry and fractions can come to life in cooking classes. Good artists understand not only color theory, but geometry.

All children, but especially disengaged or non-traditional learners deserve the chance to discover what I did over those 6 summers: That learning can be fun and that I can be good at it.  

(Maggie Riden, who now consumes books of all types with complete abandon, calls her parents at least twice a year to thank them for their patience and to apologize for 8 years of tears, tantrums and outright rebellion over school and homework. She would also like to note that her parent’s creativity didn’t end with school. Ask her how her parents broke the door slamming habit that emerged during her obnoxious high school years and how they dealt with epic sibling battles. Sheer brilliance.)

[1] Brief aside: If you believe my mother/the editorial fact checker of this blog post, I actually made a special education student teacher cry when I was in 6th grade. I was stubborn- this was no shock. It wouldn’t have been so embarrassing (for her, and frankly my Mother) except that she and my Mom were in the same Speech and Language Graduate Program. Apparently this made for some awkward lecture hall discussions. 

Maggie Riden is the Executive Director of DC Alliance of Youth Advocates and has luckily grown out of her sleeping bag moth costume. She also no longer makes teachers cry. To stay updated on youth issues in D.C. you can FOLLOW us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook, and VISIT us at 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Summers Can Change the Way We Think About School

Many of the experiences I had as a teenager affected the person I am today, but when I question which experience I had is most closely tied to what I am doing now, the answer is undoubtedly summer camp, which for me was really more like summer school. My first experience with "summer school" was the day after my 8th grade graduation when I left the suburbs of NYC to spend my summer in rural New Jersey. It was during this time that I was able to begin my study of international affairs, a subject not offered at my public high school, but that I thought would be interesting.

This "summer school" experience allowed me to spend three summers studying international affairs at different universities and as direct result of that experience I am now continuing this academic pursuit in college. This occurred for two main reasons. First off, my summers exposed me to interesting and new subject matter that was not offered during the school year. The public school curriculum in New York State focuses on core topics like English and Math, but unfortunately does not leave much room for topics like international studies or foreign affairs. So the fact that taking classes over the summer allowed me to explore this area was incredibly valuable. This experience also exposed me to different styles of teaching and learning that changed the way I looked at academic coursework on the whole which I found to be useful throughout my academic endeavors.

Secondly, my summers profoundly affected my worldview. For one of the first times in my life, I had the opportunity to study with students from a variety of different cultures and backgrounds. This exposure shifted my perceptions and re-shaped past misconceptions I had held as a result of growing up in a smaller suburban area. I found this experience to be enlightening in a way that few other experiences are and I consider this kind of exposure to be of the utmost importance to the social and emotional development of a young person.

Here at DCAYA, I am excited to be researching and reporting on new and existing educational and enrichment models like many of the Expanded Learning models we highlight. These models and the different programs that utilize them are imperative for developing well rounded students that can do more than the minimal coursework required for graduation. With these types of programs students can do what I did and follow their unique interests (which may or may not be covered during a traditional school day or year) while also discovering potentially new interests along the way. Without this opportunity, I may have never realized my full potential, or pursued international affairs in college. Through expanded learning opportunities, students learn how to go beyond the school day and see opportunities for learning all around them.

Lauren Batten is the summer intern at DCAYA where she is assisting in the organization's Expanded Learning work. Lauren is originally from Westchester County, New York and is a rising junior at the George Washington University.

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