SF Bay Area: Making Sustained Change to Address Bullying

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By Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas, Not In Our School Director

Not In Our School was honored to be part of the SF Bay Area Stop Bullying Summit, the kick-off event in a series of anti-bullying activities across the Bay Area.

The summit was part of a larger initiative where thousands of students—literally all middle and high school students in the San Francisco Unified and Oakland School Districts—viewed the Bully documentary directed by Lee Hirsch. Students in San Mateo County will view the film in October. NIOS participated in planning, served on a panel of effective strategies, and also facilitated a Q&A for Oakland students who viewed Bully.

San Francisco Summit: Leaders Converge

The summit, sponsored by Northern California District U.S. Attorney’s Office, featured a lineup of civic leaders, school superintendents, the Department of Justice, law enforcement, and community organizations. Convened by U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, speakers included Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez (read his speech here).

California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, State Assembly Rep. Tom Ammiano, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, author and bullying expert Rosalind Wiseman, filmmaker Hirsch and others. It was superbly organized by Assistant U.S. Attorney Annemarie Conroy, who put in hundreds of hours to make it happen. A hashtag, #Stopbullyingsfbay was tweeted and retweeted by over 1 million people during the Sept. 14 summit.

Wiseman wrote on her Facebook page, “I’m at the Bay Area Stop Bullying Summit. It’s crazy—it seems like every District Attorney, Superintendent and DOJ or Department of Education person not to mention an amazing group of local advocacy people in civil rights is here. Its another moment for me of how did we get here? and it’s so cool that we are.”

Students, Teachers Discuss Bully

Students listen as questions about the movie “Bully” are
being asked at the Herbst Theatre showing.

Several of us from NIOS volunteered to facilitate discussions of Oakland students who came to a local theater to view Bully. Can you imagine 28 buses filling a nine theater complex? It was awesome. The most moving moment for me was when the Fremont High School principal stood in front of the students and said (I am doing my best to recall his exact words), “This film really moved me. I personally felt ashamed to see the adults in this film that completely failed the students. I for one am going to step up my game. When we go back, we are going to follow with small group discussions on how to improve our school and I want to hear your ideas and together we will make changes in our school.” And the best part, the theater full of young people applauded him!

School and civic leaders have committed to sustained efforts to stop bullying and harassment. It is up to all of us in the community to keep this powerful momentum for safe, inclusive, and accepting schools moving forward.

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