We are an Integrated school and offer a bridge between the two major communities in Belfast and also welcome those from many other faiths and backgrounds. As Head of Year, however, I have encountered many pupils who have been bullied sometimes because of lack of awareness of these issues. I have always felt the best means of support is from other pupils and was delighted to find that same ethos with ABA.(Anti-bullying Ambassadors)
When I investigated this I found there was a widespread response from many pupils who felt 'If you know someone's being bullied you should do something to help - if you don't, that's as bad as bullying'.
Many of our pupils had been bullied at primary school and said, 'I have been bullied myself and I want to help others going through the same' or '. . .to let them know there is always someone to talk to and they are not alone'.
An enthusiastic bunch of students got together and with guidance and help, formed a lunchtime club and opened a 'chat room' where pupils could come and sit and talk or play board games. The ABA training was invaluable in giving us ideas that we have since put into practice.
We have conducted a survey throughout junior school to find out the extent of bullying and awareness. To give us a baseline, pupils took questionnaires into junior registration classes.
ABAs regularly take Friday morning registration in junior classes doing activities like 'Hand of Support, Parachute and 'Web of lies'. They take the form class to do hands-on activities such as 'wordles', 'compliment chain' (a sheet for each person is passed round anonymously for 6 people to say good things about them) and 'leave your mark' - challenging pupils to write their name with thumb prints to show how personal their influence in school really is.
They enjoy reminding pupils about the work of the ABA group. We also took assemblies during Anti-bullying week in November when pupils took to the stage to share their experience of bullying and how they have changed. They also showed clips of celebrities who have been affected by bullying and have spoken out against it.
After training from Diana Awards we have been more active in dealing with cyber bullying and have taken sessions on the dangers of posting inappropriate pictures online. We have also had contact with the Rainbow Project, a local LGBT group which help tackle homophobia in schools and a couple of our 6th form ABAs have volunteered to be trained to offer support in school in this area.
There have recently been issues with a pupil who was being bullied in the canteen and she has been supported, with the relevant Year Head and 2 of the ABAs - they encountered the problem and brought it to the relevant person. There were also two of our girls who met and walked in with a younger pupil every morning as she was frightened to come to school by herself. Many of our ABAs were bullied when they were younger and the change in their personality is amazing. They have changed from shy, timid pupils to pupils with confidence and strength - largely because of getting involved with this work and the training day we attended when they saw so many others like themselves!
We meet every Tuesday lunchtime to have lunch and make plans. They are an enthusiastic group who want to be more visible in the school and be more involved with classes. They love going into classes, introducing themselves and reminding pupils that we are here for them. They love to have fun and do exciting activities that make them stop and think - we would like to do even more. There is another local school (Belfast Girl’s Model) who are Diana Award ABAs and I have been in touch with the teacher who heads this up (Lorraine Dalzell) but I would like to develop stronger links with them. We would like pupils to feel there is a strong base where they can come to get support and help. We may eventually be able to run events with our Student Council, a pupil body in school as they have input through every year group.’