This platform, therefore, never had the chance to shine. Although I am incredibly bitter, I've decided to pay it forward & post my would-be platform on my blog for any panic-stricken contestant struggling to write theirs. Enjoy.
Name: Chelsea Ray Gilson
Title: Miss Boston
Peer Mentors Program: Making Peace with Bullying
The term “bullying” used to conjure images of a boisterous kid pushing down a weaker peer on the playground. This type of elementary school horseplay was frowned upon, but often brushed aside as harmless. Just recently, however, bullying has been recognized as a leading cause of concern nationwide. Studies reveal that being a victim of bullying is correlated with increased school dropouts, depression, social withdrawal and suicide.
While I fortunately escaped serious bullying in my own childhood, I have encountered its wrath quite frequently through the experiences of others. Shortly after founding a tutoring program at Halifax Elementary School, I was assigned to Kyle. I was shocked to learn he had been withheld from graduating to junior high with the rest of his classmates, and even more puzzled to find that a child of his intelligence level needed a tutor. Kyle absolutely dreaded elementary school in a way that was unfathomable to me, and his grades reflected his lack of scholastic ambition. As a result of daily harassment, Kyle was left feeling isolated and depressed.
Kyle was desperate for an empathetic friend, and I feel blessed that I was able to fill this void. He helped open my eyes to the necessity for positive role models and mentors in the lives of bullied kids. As a freshman in college, I did not hesitate to start mentoring at Saint Peter’s Church, where I helped countless “Kyles” find sanctuary in the kind ear of a friend. Although I always left the church with a sense of humbleness, I knew I could be doing more than just helping one or two children at a time.
When I became a member of the First Year Mentor program at Assumption College, the group had a loose goal of helping freshmen adjust to the stresses of college. After four years as a member, two years on the executive board and a year as the president, I helped transform the group into a cohesive program that enabled each member to develop a relationship with the 15 freshmen they were assigned to. From the countless expressions of gratitude, it became clear that our efforts to give these students a sense of belonging had proved successful.
Today, I am fortunate enough to provide a positive role model and kind friend to the hundreds of adolescents I represent at Model Club as the Director of the Children’s Division. I have seen first-hand the benefits of a hobby or passion in the life of a kid who is bullied so badly that attendance becomes a daily struggle. These children and teens find solace in acting, performing and modeling. They gain a sense of community, build lasting friendships with equally motivated peers, and develop a self-confidence that no degree of bullying can countermand.
Nearly one out of every ten students drops out or changes schools because of repeated bullying. We must strive to ensure schools are safe havens where each and every student is given an equal opportunity to succeed. The dark reality is that those who are bullied are more likely to be depressed, have low self-esteem, health problems, poor grades and suicidal thoughts. Living in a state known as the mecca of higher education, I believe there is no better place to initiate a lasting and concrete difference that can serve as an example to the rest of the nation.
Although Massachusetts is at the forefront of anti-bullying with a mandated law requiring each school district to implement a plan for bully prevention and intervention, no cohesive state wide program exists. The lack of a structured initiative makes it difficult to track how successful individual programs are and also increases the risk that some schools may be left unequipped to combat bullying.
Throughout my service year, I will use the First Year Mentor Program as a model for creating similar student run mentoring programs throughout Massachusetts High Schools. Each mentor will be assigned a small number of freshmen to regularly check in with. The program will provide anti-bullying seminars in addition to forums and events to help incoming students adjust to the pressures of a new school. The program will help create a sense of belonging and acceptance by encouraging all students to become involved in extra-curricular activities. Recent bullying statistics admit that half of all bullying incidents go unreported. The mentor program will aim to reduce unreported incidents by providing each student access to their own trained mentor to confide in before situations escalate. A hopeful by-product is potential bullies will be identified early and discouraged from harassing others through the anti-bullying seminars delivered by their peers. If all MA schools had mentor programs as a common ground, the student presidents and advisors could converse regularly through conventions and online forums to discuss which preventive programs are most effective and which need amending.
Bullying awareness is one of the hottest topics of media coverage today. Aligning the MAO with anti-bullying efforts will help publicize the MAO and its dedication to the community. By joining in the campaign against bullying at the beginning stages of development, I will have the opportunity to implement the peer mentors initiative to a far-reaching audience and leave a legacy that the MAO can be proud of.