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UT Students Tackle Cyberbullying at Local Middle School

Published: December 05, 2012
Trevor Joensen ’13 collects pledge cards from students at Roland Park who agreed to deactivate their social media networks for the week and refrain from malicious texting.
Trevor Joensen ’13 collects pledge cards from students at Roland Park who agreed to deactivate their social media networks for the week and refrain from malicious texting.

Trevor Joensen ’13 and Jennifer Buckley ’13 both had instances of being bullied on early social media platforms by classmates in middle school. The two told a classroom of about 20 students at Roland Park K-8 Magnet School for International Studies on Dec. 3 what it felt like to be bullied that way and why they should think twice before texting or posting comments on sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Joensen and Buckely, along with five other UT education majors, are leading a “Deactivate Cyberbullying” campaign Dec. 3-7 at the middle school. The UT students are part of an on-campus group called Becoming Engaged Leaders by Inspiring Education Values and Exploration (B.E.L.I.E.V.E.), a leadership and research organization that includes seniors Allison Zanzinger, Mikey Hupp, Abby Walsh, Alex Poirier and Maggie McGowan.

The students are conducting research to determine the cognitive aspects behind why students who have been cyberbullied reciprocate bullying behaviors to other students who were not involved in the initial bullying. The education campaign grew out of this research, and they hope to implement a curriculum template available for public use.

“We wanted to do something beyond the research,” said Joensen, who has witnessed the impacts of cyberbullying in the middle school classrooms where he is doing his practicum. “Everything about their lives is social media. Their phones are in their pocket at all times, and they are constantly checking to see if something has been said about them.”

Sarah Webb, a guidance counselor at Roland Park, agreed.

“Social media and text messaging permeates our adolescents' lives, and unfortunately, they are not all socially or emotionally equipped to handle these situations,” Webb said. “Our Roland Park family is thankful to have the students from B.E.L.I.E.V.E. working with our middle schoolers.”

The week-long activities include a curriculum designed by the UT students with 20-minute presentations at the start of each class period, morning show appearances, helping students reflect on how social media affects their lives, UT student-produced videos on how college students have been impacted by cyberbullying and the opportunity to sign a pledge to stand against it.

“We want to promote activism in our future teachers,” said Pattie Johnston, chairwoman of the education department. “It is our hope that this spirit of activism will motivate our graduates to work hard and often, beyond normal expectations, to create warm and inviting classroom climates.”

B.E.L.I.E.V.E. was created in the Spring 2012 semester as a way to give leadership and research opportunities to education majors. Along with the research project they are submitting for publication, “When Victims Bully: An Emerging Bullying Prototype,” they have designed a Spring 2013 trip to Finland to study how Finnish schools, some of the top rated in the world, are organized, and are putting together a curriculum template on dealing with cyberbullying.

“Students who are a part of this elite program demonstrate leadership skills and the willingness to go above and beyond,” said Merrie Tankersley, clinical education director. “This is exactly what principals are looking for in future educators.”

The UT students’ passion for their future students is clear in how they talk about stopping cyberbullying, and in the added hours of volunteer work for B.E.L.I.E.V.E. they have added to their already packed schedules. But they say they love it.

“We’re fully enjoying every moment,” Buckley said.
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