PORTLAND — Twenty Catherine McAuley High School students are working to end bullying after a one-of-a-kind leadership program based on the Navy SEALs ethos taught them how to better support their peers.
The anti-bullying program began with a leadership program similar to those that have been used at McAuley in the past, but blossomed into something more when the girls participating were inspired by the stories of their classmates.
Walter Corey, president and founder of the Maine Leadership Institute, has worked with different classes of girls on leadership over the years, but he said this class was “out of sight” with its vision for continuing the program after the eight-week seminars were over.
Corey said that the reason this program worked so well at McAuley is that the pedagogy between the Navy ethos and the Mercian tradition are very much the same.
“The essence of Navy leadership is ‘I am my brother’s keeper,’ selfless leadership,” he said, “and that is very much the linchpin of the Mercy tradition: women for others.”
Corey said this year’s program aimed to cure the dysfunction of bullying, to get the girls to choose kindness over meanness.
The 20 students who were selected for the program met Thursday afternoons for eight weeks to discuss bullying at their school, which the students said isn’t a major problem.
“It’s not that there is a lot of bullying here, we just want to prevent it. (The program is) to stop, to heal and to prevent,” junior Julia Cornell said.
The girls said they didn’t even realize some of their peers had experienced bullying.
“Some of our peers had been bullied and bullied at this school,” junior Sophie Warren said.
They said they hope that a three-part program later in the year will help other girls step forward and share their stories, so there can be an open and honest discussion about the problem at the school, and possibly beyond.
“There has to be an honesty,” Warren said. “People need to share their stories. We know it exists, so (we are asking girls) to tell us their story.”
The program taught the girls that possessing leadership qualities can help to combat bullying. Warren said that just standing up to say what is and isn’t OK is a good first step to combating a problem that has taken root across the country.
Although the leadership seminars have ended, the girls are hoping to develop a program to continue the dialogue.
“We were asked whether we wanted to do something, anything,” senior Katie Profenno said. “We want to make sure that no one else feels this way ever again. (But) it was kind of difficult because we have so many awesome ideas.”
The girls said they want to start by holding a school-wide activity that gets younger students, and teachers, involved.
They said after the larger program they hope to gather groups of girls, much like the original leadership program, to discuss the problem of bullying. After that they want to do some sort of activity where students get to know other students with whom they wouldn’t normally associate.
“We are thinking of doing a switch up your lunch tables thing, which does sound a bit cliche, but we’re hoping to do it differently and support all kids,” Warren said.
Corey said the the McAuley girls and the administration were very open and willing to facilitate discussions that could lead to change.
“These women have been terrific at taking the challenge and functioning as a team and making a difference,” he said.
All the girls agreed that even though they don’t see bullying as a major problem at their school, there is always something that can be done to be nicer to those around you.
“Even if you have never been bullied, you can still be nicer and always be interested in people,” Warren said. “If you don’t know there is a problem or you don’t care that there is a problem or you don’t care about the way you are perceived by other people, then it doesn’t matter. But we need to make people care.”