As a School Ambassador Fellow with the U.S. Department of Education, I had the opportunity to help plan and coordinate a visit for First Lady Melania Trump and Secretary Betsy DeVos to Orchard Lake Middle School in West Bloomfield, MI. The school was selected because they had pledged their commitment to anti-bullying initiatives promoting inclusion and acceptance. Orchard Lake Middle School prides itself on diversity and anti-bullying programs, so the principal and staff knew that they would be a good fit for FLOTUS’s bullying prevention platform.
Breaking Bully Stereotypes
I have spent the last decade focusing on breaking bully stereotypes and shifting the conversation around such a critical topic, so I jumped at the chance to be part of this work at a national level. Most of the bullying I faced as a student occurred in middle school, so I was shocked to see it happen with my third graders. The most surprising part, however, was when I realized which students were doing the bullying. Some of my sweetest, smartest, and most seemingly innocent kids were often the ones doing the most harm. I see the same trends and patterns with every class.
One thing these kids all have in common is that they do not see themselves as bullies since they do not resemble the exaggerated characters in TV and movies. No one is a bully all the time, and this misconception makes it hard for kids to accept their actions as bullying behavior. This problem can be perpetuated in any school lunchroom when kids are left feeling isolated and excluded, while the classmates doing the excluding don’t understand the harm they cause. Effective anti-bullying initiatives can really help change those dynamics, and having the First Lady and Secretary share that message really helps kids pay attention.
Students Realize the Magnitude of the Event
I was able to be at the school for most of the day, hours before the special guests arrived. I could feel the energy in the building as students buzzed with anticipation. It was fascinating to watch all that happened behind the scenes and the planning and manpower it took to execute a one-hour visit. But the students reminded me why this event was so important. While the adults were scurrying around making sure things were running smoothly, the middle schoolers were enjoying the moment, recognizing the magnitude of what was happening. They knew their school was being highlighted and it meant they were doing something right, and that is an empowering feeling.
Sharing a message with kids about the importance of compassion and kindness is something that everyone should stand behind, and that day, everyone did. It is a big deal to have the First Lady and Education Secretary of the United States at their school, and this is something that these kids will remember for the rest of their lives. I am quite sure they will also remember that no one should eat alone either.
Melody Arabo is a 2017-18 Washington School Ambassador Fellow.
Photo at the top: A student takes a selfie with First Lady Melania Trump. (Melody: “They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but the picture at the top is worth a million smiles. It perfectly captures the joy that was felt in the room by students who realized they were experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime moment.”)