In one exercise, staff members watch a bullying skit and are asked to identify which role they took on in high school. More than 90 percent of the Central High School staff identified with bystanders, demonstrating just how much of a population is affected by but doesn’t directly participate in bullying.
“It gives you a visual of, ‘Wow, these people are all being impacted by this behavior’,” Burden said. “That exercise by itself is empowering to bystanders because bystanders are the majority, and the people involved are the minority. Bystanders have a lot more power than they realize.”
Students voiced a bit of skepticism.
“I think they’ve been trying to teach us bullying is bad since elementary school, and if they haven’t gotten it through by then ... they’re not going to be obliged to change,” said Casey Raphael, a West senior and Henrichs’ friend. “We know that it’s bad.”
Past anti-bullying programs haven’t spurred a substantive change in school bullying, Henrichs said.
“Many kids agree with the program and what it represents, it’s just that so many people will never have to change. A program will always change things for a couple of days, but then it picks right back up,” he said.
Even younger students aren’t so sure if the news classes will make a difference.
“Honestly, I think it helps the people who are being bullied, but not so much the people who are doing the bullying because I still see it all the time,” said Ellie Childs, 13, a student at West Middle School, which started anti-bullying classes in September.
But school officials contend the focus isn’t on bullies themselves.
“The program isn’t going to fix bullies,” said Traverse City Central High School assistant principal Jay Larner. “The intent of the program is to empower the 90 percent of students who are not generally engaged in any sort of bullying act so they can support the 10 percent who are.”