Tucson Hebrew Academy has taken a more-than-proactive approach to bullying. “We deal with bullies all the time in life,” says Ronnie Sebold, THA director of admissions, noting that even adults often run into bullies, from the person who cuts you off while driving to a boss or co-worker who pesters you.
THA’s “Owning Up” program is based on Rosalind Wiseman’s “Queen Bees and Wannabees,” the basis of the movie “Mean Girls.” The program is “empowering,” says Sebold, and is taught weekly in every Judaics and secular class, through age-appropriate skits, role modeling and other activities.
“We’re teaching kids to treat everyone with dignity,” she says, which follows basic Jewish values. People don’t need to like every individual they meet and don’t have to be friends with everyone, the program teaches, but it’s important to still respect all human beings. For example, kids “can invite Joey to their birthday party instead of leaving him the only one out, even if they don’t like him,” says Sebold. “Then thank him for coming.”
A lot of bullying behaviors can be changed if people are treated with respect, reducing their insecurities, says Sebold.
The entire THA staff has participated in a three-day training workshop for Owning Up, which “gets kids thinking and talking about how to help, not to embarrass a person,” she says. “We don’t have a big bullying problem here but we want [students] to be ready for the real world when they go into high school. We’re giving them the skills they need to become leaders.”