How two suburban schools are empowering students to create culture of safety
Green dots speckle classroom walls, hallways and even teachers' lanyards at Barrington and Libertyville high schools, a constant visual reminder that fighting abusers is everybody's business.
"The premise behind Green Dot is that no one has to do everything, but everyone has to do something," says Amy Winkelman, Barrington High prevention and wellness program coordinator. "(We're) just trying to instill empathy and empower students to look out for each other."
With that goal in mind, the two schools are implementing an innovative project to help all students recognize they have the power to do something about bullying, dating violence and sexual assault.
Though most high schoolers might know about these behaviors, and many may even witness or experience them, few likely know what to do about them. That's where the "Green Dot" program -- aimed at instilling a schoolwide culture that rejects violent behaviors -- comes in.
The initiative strives to equip Barrington and Libertyville High School students with the determination, self-confidence and tools to intervene in such situations, rather than be passive bystanders.
At a recent six-hour training session, 25 Libertyville High School students worked through hypothetical harassment scenarios. They studied how they would apply the "three D's" of intervention: directly stepping in, delegating to authority figures, such as coaches, teachers and police, and distracting the parties.
Senior Jack VanDixhorn, 17, says practicing the scenarios helps ingrain behaviors so intervention becomes "more natural." He says he hopes to be more vigilant in recognizing harassing behaviors and engaging with his friends about what he learned.
"Maybe they don't realize they are bullying and can change directions," VanDixhorn says. "Sometimes ... there are situations around us, but we just don't see them. It's really helpful to know what to do in those situations ... to have those tools."
Students say some barriers to intervening when they witness harassment are fear of invading someone's privacy, reluctance to hurt a friend's feelings, fear of making matters worse, and feeling intimidated.
Joyce Amann, Libertyville High School health and physical education teacher, emphasizes connecting with and supporting victims through reassuring language, by not engaging aggressors and by using defusing tactics. She adds that student safety "is the most important part," advising students against putting themselves in harm's way when a situation escalates.
Barrington High School has trained counselors, teachers, support staff and 200 students considered influential in their peer circles on the "three D's" of intervention. Trainees sport Green Dot T-shirts, buttons, bandannas and socks to reinforce the message during events focusing on awareness of domestic violence, dating violence and sexual assault.
Winkelman says all employees and the school's nearly 3,000 students know that each green dot represents somebody intervening in reaction to a potential act of violence.
At Libertyville High School, about 95 percent of employees have received training through the program. And by December, roughly 150 of the school's nearly 2,000 students considered leaders and influencers within their social spheres also will be trained, says Brenda Nelson, health and wellness coordinator, who has been working on mental health issues in schools for 17 years.
Nationwide, the Green Dot program has reached 705 schools and trained more than 3,100 instructors, and it boasts a 21 percent reduction in violence perpetrated by students, according to Virginia-based Alteristic, an agency that says it was founded on the Green Dot strategy and "tackles societal issues at local, national, and global levels."
Educators hope the movement will create a ripple effect throughout their school community.
"We are doing this very intentionally," says Nelson, adding that the goal is to educate all students and parents about the program by early next year. "It's not just about the victim and the perpetrator. It's really about the community around them."
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