Talawanda “Plugs into Kindness”
The heavy snow posed no threat to the energy that awoke the halls of Talawanda Middle School (Oxford) last Friday morning as they kicked off their YLS Service Challenge Project. Although the temperature was low, the spirits couldn’t have been higher as the 6, 7 & 8th graders “plugged into kindness” with their ‘Unplug Bullying’ rally. The idea, spurring from The Anthony Muñoz Youth Leadership Seminar in October, was headed by Talawanda High School’s group of YLS attendees who recognized the need to address bullying in their younger, more impressionable generations – their district middle school. Sharon Gregory, Family and Consumer Science Teacher and AMF group leader at Talawanda High School was so overwhelmed with the positive feedback that the group is planning a community presentation next month and will continue to visit the middle school during lunches to mentor students.
“We have had great comments from our staff and administration! I am so proud of the students and how they came up with the idea and ran with it. We worked together as a group to come up with small group ideas and the students handled themselves very professionally. They were surprised with how many students opened up to them and shared things during the small groups.”
April Kerley, U.S. Paralympics Swimmer and nine-time American record setter delivered a moving message of her story and the adversity she has overcome in life, striving to hold herself to a standard of compassion and kindness toward others. She explained that in life, there is no such thing as “normal” and that if we were all in fact “normal” – we would all be average, possessing the same strengths, but also the same weaknesses. April, a keynote speaker at the 2013 AMF Youth Leadership Seminar, sparked an energy at Talawanda with her inspirational story.
“As an athlete, I train daily with teenagers and have long believed they are emerging as inspiring, youth leaders. So when the opportunity came along to speak at the Anthony Munoz Foundation’s Youth Leadership Seminar, I was eager to support the cause and contribute to your service projects. What I did not anticipate was the learning I would gain along the journey. As I have traveled to schools to support your projects, it has elevated my enthusiasm! Along the way, I discovered new insight into what is important to you, and, most importantly, why a project matters to you. Through the AMF Challenge, you shared of yourself, your life experiences, your aspirations and that directed your community service to align with you, your peers, and your community.”
The YLS high school ambassadors finished up with a series of creative skits aimed to express the extreme emotional and social effects of bullying, whether in or outside of school walls. With a progressive age of technology focused on social media and online interaction, there is a rising platform for bullying, including threats, hurtful words and exclusion in the digital space – specifically with apps such as Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. The crisis of cyber bullying through technology and online mediums continues to heighten and the YLS team didn’t hold back in challenging this nation-wide issue head on.
Following the all-school rally, Ms. Gregory’s students chose to hone in on 7th graders specifically for the small group break-out sessions – a group seeming to be more affected by this issue. The high schoolers facilitated evoking dialogue on the various forms of bullying and how it can be disguised, why it happens, and where students should turn if they experience bullying amongst themselves or peers. Through their thoughts and participation, it was evident that the students’ eyes were being opened to the magnitude of bullying – an issue that hit home for them, and thousands of youth throughout the community. The 7th graders were encouraged to share personal opinions, stories and suggestions on how the issue can be eliminated moving forward.