Members of BArT's student council lead an anti-bullying rally for middle school students on Thursday afternoon.
ADAMS, Mass. — Berkshire Arts and Technology Public Charter School students on Thursday were reminded that almost everyone has been a bully.
And, more importantly, everyone has the power to stop bullying.
The school's student government held rallies for all of BArT's students to kickoff the school's new anti-bullying initiative.
On Friday, the children will be asked to sign an anti-bullying pledge drafted by the student council that reads, in part, "By making this commitment, I am committing to behavior I am proud of and to making my community a respectful place."
As part of the rally, student council members asked the children gathered in BArT's atrium whether they had ever "been called a name" or "called someone else a name."
Nearly every hand went up.
Stopping that kind of behavior — and worse forms of abuse — is the goal of BArT's new "Commitment to Respect." Those who sign the pledge will receive purple wristband bearing the words "Compassion, Acceptance, Kindness, Support, Empathy."
Student leaders say the tight-knit community at BArT does not have a "bullying problem," but it does not want one either.
"It's just that there's bullying everywhere in every community," Student Council President Cassidy Salvatore said. "And when you have a group of kids ... they spend all day, every day with each other. They spend more time with their peers than they do with their family. There's going to be conflict in an environment where people are so close together.
"This is really important stuff for kids. They know the difference between right and wrong, but putting it in writing and getting them enthused to do so is really important for us. We want our kids to be collectively supporting one another."
With a little more than 300 kids in Grades 6 through 12, BArT is one school where it is hard to get too lost in the crowd. And it is harder to be a bully without someone finding out about it.
"Some kids come here because of bullying that's happening in other schools," Salvatore said. "I know some other schools are so big there may be hostile environments teachers aren't noticing. Here, we have teachers everywhere.
"If anyone sees anything, we always try to step in. I know if I walk down the hall and see a middle-schooler push another middle-schooler, I can walk up to those kids and say, 'Hey, is there a problem?' And if there is, maybe we can talk through it. We want to work that conflict out as soon as we see it."
Salvatore's vice president agreed.
"At every school there's a little name-calling and people get picked on," said Anthony Monteleone, a 10th-grader like Salvatore. "At this school, it happens a lot less. When I was in middle school, it was a lot worse than it is here. I'm yet to see anything like that here.
"You notice it when it happens, but it rarely happens. You just don't see it."
Nevertheless, the reminders provided by this new initiative will keep BArT going in the right direction, Vice Principal Juraye Pierson said.
"We don't have a lot of bullying here, for sure, but I think it's something we can always work on — acceptance and welcoming everyone, no matter what their difference is," Pierson said. "Making sure everyone is accepted is something we keep a keen focus on. We think we're doing a good job, and lots of kids say there's no bullying at BArT, but you want to make sure."
Pierson said Thursday's rally and Friday's commitment ceremony will be followed over the next few months by assemblies and themed days once a month when the entire school community will focus on ideas like acceptance, empathy and kindness.
"This is just kind of our kickoff with the student council," Pierson said. "The idea is we want them to be the voice of this and the ones pushing this forward, so it's not coming as an adult-focused thing."
The leaders of Thursday's rally led their schoolmates in singing the song "Lean on Me," and exhorted everyone in the room to be a better citizen and a better friend without preaching about a problem most kids know all to well.
"We don't want this to be a negative thing," Salvatore said. "We're trying to turn it into a positive."
"We're not going to bring them down and say, 'Don't bully other students. If you see it happen, just tell on them.' We're going to tell them, 'Get ready to make this a better environment for your peers. Get ready to make this a more welcoming community.'
"We just want them to be closer to each other."