Joanna, a member of the Webwise Youth Panel, organised a fantastic campaign for tackling bullying through building a positive school environment in St Mary’s Holy Faith Secondary School, Killester. Here she recounts her SMILE Week:
In my school I organised a campaign called SMILE week (Sport, Mental health, Internet safety, LGBT, Enjoy!). This was an awareness campaign for my school in which we focused on the topics of mental health, cyber safety, LGBT rights and being physically active.
I decided to organise this campaign to change the attitudes in my school about bullying, in a good way. I wanted to focus on all things positive and make the girls feel happy and comfortable in the school environment and to develop trust between the girls and teachers. I wanted everyone to feel like they were part of something, like they were working together and could trust each other. I did this through a competition for everyone in the school as well as by getting girls and teachers involved in presentations and giving out prizes during and after the week. I also believe that peer mentoring is the key to helping tackle issues such as bullying in school with younger students because they are often more comfortable to talk with people closer to their own age. I talked about this with my principal and prepared a series of presentations for first and second years on mental health and internet safety to try and achieve this in my school. These were a great success! SMILE week was incredibly busy and took a lot of work and sometimes stress, but overall I am very happy with it and I think that in St Mary’s we achieved that sense of trust and comfort. And I definitely got everyone smiling! 🙂
Prior to the week I contacted a number of organisations and charities that work with young people on these topics and asked for support. The response was brilliant, I got tons of posters, leaflets, resources, DVDs, badges, wristbands, key rings, pencil cases and even more! I put the poster and leaflets all over the school and used all the goodies as prizes in my Positive Messages competition.
The point of this competition was to get every single student and staff member involved in SMILE week, in thinking positively and smiling. With the help of fifth year prefects, I asked all the girls in the school to write a positive message, quote or song lyric on a piece of coloured card (which was provided) and then to hand them up. I had set a goal of 350 positive messages to be collected during the week and I promised that if this was reached then every single student and staff member would get a prize. The messages were put on display on the guidance notice board and generated a lot of attention and really helped to get everyone buzzing in the morning and put them into the spirit of SMILE week that I wanted them to be in! Our goal was reached and prizes were given out on Friday. However, that wasn’t it. After SMILE week was over, I sorted the messages into class groups and picked out the best three out of every tutor class and awarded them on the Friday after SMILE week. The messages were put on display on the guidance notice board and generated a lot of attention and really helped to get everyone buzzing in the morning and put them into the spirit of SMILE week that I wanted them to be in!
Each week day focused on a different topic. They were as follows:
Monday – Mental Health
In the morning prefects met with every tutor class to announce the topic for the day and let girls know what was going on. On Monday it was presentations for first and second years. After small break, I brought all of the second years to the upstairs kitchen to show them some videos and a presentation on mental health. I used the DVD I got form the Dublin City Comhairle na nOg and I made my power points using information from Spunout.ie, Reachout.com and Headstrong. I wanted to keep the presentation positive and talk about all the little things that girls can do to mind their mental health and that it was okay not to feel okay sometimes. The girls seemed to really enjoy this. On the last class of the day I showed the same videos and power points to our first years and some of the teachers that supervised us even joined in and talked about what they do to mind their mental health, which was brilliant! One of the girls came up to me afterwards and thanked me for the talk with a broad smile. I have to say, it made me walk two inches above the ground on my way home.
Tuesday – Internet Safety
Safer Internet Tuesday began with a small surprise for the sixth years. Three of our first years gave out bracelets from the Green Ribbon Campaign and pens from ReachOut.com to all the girls in sixth year. The green ribbon campaign takes place in May, but their website, which promotes talking about mental health, is up all year and ReachOut.com is a website for young people with information about mental health, depression and where to find support. I thought it was nice for the first years to give these out after they had learned about mental health the previous day. I also thought it was a nice way to wish the sixth years the best of luck with their orals, which started on Tuesday, and to promote positive mental health among them at this stressful time. There definitely were smiles all around as they examined each others wrists on the way to their first class!
Prefects also gave out coloured cards to every single girl in the school for our positive messages competition. Everyone was asked to write a positive song lyric, quote or just a few words that make them smile.
That morning I gave the first years a presentations about internet safety at home and in school. We also discussed cyber bullying, how to prevent it and how to react to it, with the help of different videos and resources from Watch Your Space. The same was shown to second years after little break and honestly, the way the second years reacted to it really surprised me. I mean, the second years in my school are very giddy girls and as much as I adore them, I was nervous that I would have to fight for their attention for the whole class. However, this was not the case. The girls stared at me hypnotised and listened to every word as I listed guidelines on how to protect yourself on facebook and other social media, as well as tips on how to keep yourself safe online, how to report cyber bullying and how to support one another when you see bullying online. I was so proud of them, they took the topic seriously and listened to everything that I had to say. They loved the Up 2 US video! I really felt like they were getting something out of these talks and not just missing classes, and that was nice.
Throughout the day more and more positive messages were handed up to teachers and prefects. They were all put up on our Smile week notice board (outside the guidance office) and at the end of the day we had reached over 100 positive messages with some really inspiring words and beautiful drawings. Everything was going fantastic!
Wednesday – School Spin for Cycle Against Suicide (Sport)
On Wednesday we managed to achieve a number of goals; promoting positive mental health, promoting physical activity and ticking another box on our journey towards achieving Ambassador School status for the Cycle Against Suicide. Three girls in my year, Carla, Grace and Caitlin have been working tirelessly over a number of weeks to organise a school spin for our school. Finally, we managed to host it in the middle of SMILE week. The spin involved over 60 girls from different year groups in our school, as well as students and teachers from two other local schools, coming together to cycle around our local park, St Anne’s Park. The weather wasn’t as nice as we had hoped, but our cycle went ahead and it was a great success. We all completed the route and had a great time. The C.A.S. message ‘It’s okay not to feel okay and it’s more than okay to ask for help’ added to the atmosphere of the day. We had also passed the second hundred mark in terms of our positive messages! I was thrilled with the buzz among the students (and teachers) in the morning who were handing the notes in and even looking for second pieces of card!
Thursday – LGBT Day
On Thursday we focused our campaign on the seniors. So, the prefects still went around in the morning getting positive messages, but at lunch I went around to the senior classes giving out leaflets about LGBT Rights and Mental Health. I decided to only go to the seniors with these because I was worried that if any of the juniors laughed about the topic, it could have upset someone. In the end I was happy with this decision because the juniors got a lot of attention during the week and in this way I got to connect with the seniors more and get them involved in SMILE week too. They were really interested and the leaflets were gone before the bell for class, so I was very pleased with that. We also got just past the three hundred mark of positive messages. So close!
Friday – Enjoy!
Friday was the fun day of our SMILE week. I came in early and divided up the badges and wristbands from Webwise and the badges from Reachout.com so that they would be ready for the prefects to bring around to the classes. I also collected some last minute entries for the positive messages competition and by tutor time our goal of 350 was reached! I was so happy, and when I saw that everybody had put on the badges and wristbands I was chuffed! A lot of people congratulated me and thanked me for the week and everyone was talking about it. I really felt like the week was a success and I was glad that everyone enjoyed Friday 🙂
On the Friday following SMILE week, which was the last day of school before Easter break, we had our annual school walk and on that morning I gave out extra prizes to my favourite positive messages. I gave out pencil cases and key rings to three girls in every single tutor class and even to two teachers. I also found out from my principal that at the last parents’ association meeting the two parents of first year students mentioned SMILE week. They said that the girls talked about it all week and really enjoyed it. I also prepared packs for the parents association with a sample of leaflets from organisations that supported SMILE week and wristbands, which they really liked too. The fact that girls actually talked about SMILE week at home and actually enjoyed it just made me feel fantastic 🙂
And that’s not all! I also got 500 green ribbons from See Change to give out to girls, but I decided not to give them out during SMILE week. Instead, I decided to keep them till May, which is the month of Mental Health. That’s also when the green ribbon campaign will be launched, so I thought it would be nice to keep them until later and use them to bring back the positive energy in the school, especially because it will be so close to exams. It’s really exciting and I can’t wait to start organising next year’s SMILE week, I have so many ideas! 😀