Middle school is foundational to the development of self-esteem, personal values, identity development – making effective prevention and response programming critical. Rates of bullying, dating violence, sexual violence, and harassment are already disturbingly high. Research suggests links between bullying behavior in early adolescence and other forms of violence and aggression later in life. Effective identification, response, and intervention in middle school lay the foundation for powerful prevention in high school and beyond.
The first component of the program recognizes the central role of adults in creating safe schools. Teachers, staff, administrators, and parents are trained to recognize and address risk and support students. The second component of the program is the Classroom Module, a highly interactive, adaptable series of two one-hour sessions designed to target every student at the school. This module helps students connect to their role in creating a safer school environment and identify the kind of person they want to be. Students learn to recognize bullying or dating violence behaviors and identify obstacles that might challenge their ability to intervene. We offer options for realistic actions despite students’ obstacles. We show them how they can establish safe norms that create a culture of positive bystander intervention in their school. The final component is Student Leadership Training, a more intensive education program designed for small groups of carefully selected students who have influence within the school. The program allows students to practice more intensive skills, teaching them to recognize and respond to bullying and dating violence among their peers.
One of our first communities to pilot the Middle School Program, Dubuque, Iowa, has been implementing the Green Dot strategy for over three years. They have fully implemented the program in both the middle and high school settings, and have worked to create a strong culture where interpersonal violence is not tolerated and everyone is expected to do their part. Their “fair” style launch event attracted significant participation, incorporating a football game against a rival school that was also actively implementing the strategy. Today, they continue to work with our team to strengthen and sustain Green Dot efforts in their community.
To engage and inspire middle school students, we engaged Guante, a hip hop recording artist, slam poet, and educator from Minneapolis. In 2014, Guante worked with our team to develop a moving poetry video entitled “Three Open Letters to Three Younger Versions of Myself.” This poem explores the different roles we can take throughout adolescence as we learn and interact with the world around us—specifically, as we learn about how we react to the way others treat us, our relationships, and ultimately the kind of people we want to be in the world. Often, students find this poem the most inspiring part of the curriculum because it allows them to be imperfect and set the goal of achieving more.