Two moms take positive steps to combat bullying
Long-time friends Sarah Fisher and Trish Morille, both marketing professionals, have known each other since their children were babies. So, it seemed only natural that the two would turn to each other to find a solution when their children began facing some tough bullying issues at school.
“We cried a lot together and searched for ways we could help each other and help our kids,” Morille said. “We really struggled with why this was happening, and we didn't want to raise victims.”
As writers, they began to collaborate on scripts that would help their children respond to difficult situations. But, it wasn't until the spring of 2010 — when someone else's child tried to commit suicide after weeks of bullying — that the two decided they had to do more.
The story about the eight-year-old who tried to jump off a second-floor balcony after having his pants pulled down at Blackshear Elementary brought the seriousness and the pervasiveness of the problem to the forefront.
“At the time, there was already a national discussion going on about bullying,” Fisher said. “The stars aligned right when we, as moms, decided to take action.”
“It’s sad families and schools didn’t have the language or the understanding to really lock arms and help the kids,” she added. “We just felt there was an opportunity to get people to come together and to understand why these things happen. Why is it always a reaction to a tragedy that gets people talking? We should be able to get ahead of these things.”
A discussion among parents and educators gathered for coffee at Fisher’s house got the ball rolling and, soon after, +Works (Positive Works) was born. The organization they created is described as “a parent-driven, grassroots, non-profit organization serving as a catalyst for positive community change on bullying and other trending issues keeping adults and kids in our neighborhoods up at night.”
One of the first steps, Morille said, is to stop the blame game and look within to ensure parents are setting a positive example for their own children within their own homes, making a conscious effort to not gossip or speak ill of others. This model extended to the carpool, Fisher said, where they quickly spoke up to curtail any gossip between kids.
“This is a positive car,” Fisher said, is the message they offered. “In this car, we’re not going to gossip. Here’s the good news: we’re not going to talk about you when you’re not here either.”
Morille and Fisher wrote a whitepaper together and Fisher, a graphic designer, created a bumper sticker encouraging others to speak up against bullying.
“We believe, if you have the words, you have the courage to speak up,” Fisher said about the scripts offered to help children stand up for themselves and others. One script they offer is short and simple, but consists of four very strong words to defuse a bullying situation: “This is not okay.”
“When one person speaks up, the dynamic changes,” Morille added. “Everything can change. Then, other people have the courage to believe they can affect change.”
Since 2010, +Works has amassed a roster of 12 local public and private schools that subscribe to their program to reach children from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. For as little as $5 per year per student, the organization provides the words, the tools and the visual reminders to create a more positive learning environment and deal with issues of bullying.
There are also opportunities for local businesses and organizations to join, provide support for the program and partner with +Works for fund-raising and cultural events. Family memberships are also available.
The program begins with education for parents, educators and coaches, because there has to be buy-in from the entire education community, the two founders said. They stress that +Works offers a mindset, not a curriculum, to spark discussions about how students want to be treated and how they should treat each other.
The +Works program is now impacting more than 8,000 Houston-area students and their families, and Morille and Fisher agree that metrics are important to ensure their positive tools are working. Regular anonymous surveys of educators, parents and students provide the necessary feedback.
Also, +Talks allow for conversations about trending issues that concern everyone, such as mental health, risky teen and pre-teen behaviors, hyper-competitiveness and the complications of advanced technology.
“When we were all young, we didn’t have a lot of this stuff to deal with it,” Morille said. “Now, with technology –– with the click of a button or a swipe of your finger –– if we allow it, children are exposed to new things. What kind of cultural cocktail are we serving our kids? Do we even understand the ramifications of it all?”
“Our mission has broadened because bullying is such a complicated issue,” she added.