Your environment can have a big impact on your mood. But did you know that, according to one study, connectedness to your environment and feelings of support lead to better emotional health?³² This week, talk to a teacher or a guidance counselor about creating a safe space in your school where students can relax and study without fear of being bullied. You could propose finding a location near the guidance office or the nurse’s office. Wherever it may be, just knowing it exists can give you and other students a huge sense of relief.
It’s common to feel regret after you don’t stand up for someone being treated unkindly. If that’s ever been you, it’s okay. This week is your chance to prevent it from happening again. Pick a person you feel safe approaching to talk about why something they did was hurtful. Consider saying something like, “Hey, can I talk to you about what you said in the hallway yesterday? I think it really hurt ___’s feelings.” They may not even realize what they did was wrong.
According to one 2012 study, 70% of students report seeing frequent bullying online. You can help turn the tide by showing support for someone who has been cyberbullied or excluded this week. You could like or comment on their posts with positivity, or if it feels comfortable and you think they’d be okay with it, post something on their wall that lets them know you’re in their corner, like an inspiring GIF or a picture of the two of you that you know they’ll like. You can write something like, “___, I love the face you’re making in this photo! I’m so happy we’re friends.” If they don’t want to be called out on social media, try sending them a private message.
I recently posted a link on Facebook to an article that discussed research showing that in schools with GSAs (Gay/Straight Alliance) “the odds of suicidal thoughts were cut in half for lesbians, gays and bisexuals. And heterosexual boys were half as likely to attempt suicide.” In other words, “Simply Having a Gay Straight Alliance Reduces Suicide Risk for All Students.” GSAs benefit everyone because they teach that every student is unique and valuable, and we can always do more to protect our students.
That’s why it was disappointing to see that in the 2019 Safe & Supportive Schools Report Card recently issued by the Equality California Institute, Ojai Unified was listed as a no-show. It’s unfortunate because accurate information and research is critical to serving our students, and to get that information requires the support and cooperation of school districts. It’s also unfortunate that we weren’t represented because I personally know the hard work OUSD dedicates to creating safe supportive schools for all students.
Yes, these surveys can be a lot of work. But when they are asking important questions, as was this one, the work is worth it. My hopes are that the next time this comes around, we will participate.
For now, I agree with what State Superintendent Tony Thurmond said: “I encourage you to use this report as a tool to advance equality in your classrooms and the health and well-being of students in your communities. District leaders, reach out to your peers who have found success in making their schools safer. Parents, teachers and students, reach out to your school administrators and elected school board members and speak up during opportunities to provide public comment. Teachers unions, PTA members and community leaders, advocate for more inclusive policies and practices in your district.”
One of the easiest ways to improve your life and the lives of those around you is by helping others. Pay attention to moments when you notice people in need of help. Team up with a friend and see how many different people you can help this week. A mother struggling to carry a stroller? Lend her a hand! A younger student in the hallway looking lonely? Say hi! Compare notes with your friend throughout the week for ideas and inspiration.
Sometimes talking really is the best therapy. In fact, speaking your mind is a proven way to instantly increase your happiness. If you’re going through a tough time, talk to someone about it. It can be a parent, an older sibling, a close friend, or a teacher. Just find someone you trust and focus on expressing what you’re feeling. If you’re not sure how to start the conversation, you can simply say, “Hey, can I talk to you about something?” If you can’t find the right person to talk to, contact one of the resources on our help page—help is just a text or call away.
Studies show that gratitude is an emotional state that can provide strength and resilience to those who express it often. This week, we want you to exercise your gratitude muscles. First, write a list of 3 times you missed opportunities to express gratitude or tell someone how much they mean to you. It doesn’t matter if it happened yesterday or last year. Next, go out and make up for the misses. If you have a former teacher who really impacted you, you could say, “I never thanked you for all the valuable lessons you gave me.” If you have a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, you could say, “I never told you how important our friendship is to me, and I’m sorry we drifted apart.” If doing it in person is too hard, give it a try over email or text.
According to a study conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 82% of transgender or gender non-binary youth reported that they feel unsafe at school. Of trans and non-gender conforming students, 44% of them had been abused physically (ex. punched, shoved, etc.) and 67% of them had been bullied online. If a trans or gender non-conforming student at your school is getting bullied, make an effort this week to offer them help. Let them know you’re there for them whenever they need you. You can say something like, “Hey, I just want to let you know that I don’t like seeing you get bullied and I’m on your side.” If you don’t know any transgender people in your community, you can check out books, films, YouTube channels, and transgender blogs to find out more about what it means to be transgender, so you can be an effective ally in the future.
Watching a television program recently talking about creativity. One of their examples was a previously failing elementary school that adopted an arts-based curriculum for all grades and subjects. This means “teaching about, with, and through the arts.” The results? Dramatically increased math and English test scores – in some cases, gains as high as 50%.
It meant a radical re-thinking of how and why we deliver education. Education today is a fairly structured affair, with time delineated into subjects and periods, with little flow-through in the day. One set of ideas ends and the student moves on to the next class and set of ideas.
But even if you accept that we can’t get away from structured education (an assertion I do not accept), there are still ways to cultivate creativity. In her article, Marilyn Price-Mitchell PhD discusses ways of cultivating creativity even in “standards-based classrooms.” Possibility thinking and divergent thinking are only two of the methods she suggests.
But we’re talking about arts-based education. And research strongly suggests that not only does it work to improve overall academic performance, it can actually “significantly reduce or completely eliminate the educational achievement gap for economically disadvantaged students.”
As early as 2004, research was showing the compatibility of arts-based curriculum for whole schools, not just some grades or student populations. “A whole-school art activity may focus on one project in which all the students in the school participate. One elementary school, for example, studied a George Seurat painting for 5 weeks as part of a social studies project.”
Or the curriculum can be individual classroom-based. “In one model, for example, a professional artist visited individual teachers weekly for a period of 2 years to help them integrate arts into their language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies curricula.”
“But is it good for students?” you ask. In short, yes. The research shows that not only does it improve academics, but learning ability generally, thinking skills, self-esteem, willingness to try new things…all are improved with arts-based education.
It’s not new, it’s not easy. But if we want to take our schools beyond excellence to distinction, if we want to honor the artistic heritage of Ojai, if we want to create fundamental gains for our students and faculty, we need to think about new ways. Arts-based education bears close examination.
Including someone new is a powerful act that can dramatically lessen the effects of isolation.²⁵ Is there someone in your class that you’ve noticed looking down or lonely? Make a point to reach out and invite them to hang out with your friends this week, even if they’re not normally part of your group. You could say, “We’re seeing a new movie after school, want to join? Should be fun,” or “A group of us is going to play some pickup basketball on Saturday afternoon. Wanna come? Don’t worry, we’re no pros.” That tiny gesture could make a world of difference to them.