Non-profit trying to create safer classrooms in our hometowns

Published: Jan. 12, 2023 at 5:09 PM EST
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LYNCHBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - Since the pandemic, mental health and student behavior have been a struggle in the classroom.

The National Institute of Education Sciences says more than 8 in 10 public schools reported an increase in troubling behavior since COVID-19.

“We’ve heard from educators around the state, and you know we’ve seen this in statistics too, students are struggling with mental health, educators are struggling with mental health… conflict, name-calling,” said Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities Vice President of Programs Jessica Hawthorne.

Hawthorne says there are six forms and levels prejudice can take. They are teaching students and teachers from Bedford, Campbell, and Roanoke counties how to intervene early.

“Negative stereotypes happening, if we see some name calling happening or maybe someone is using a term and they don’t know what it means,” explained Hawthorne. “If we start there hopefully, we can prevent those life-threatening acts from happening.”

The non-profit created a safe environment for students to share their experiences.

“Stuff you might not want to share, you feel comfortable sharing it here. Because you know you can say it and people won’t go off and tell other people,” said Beckett Pritt.

Middle school student Tanner Woods says bullying happens all around him at school.

“A lot more than people would think to see. It’s kind of sad to see how fast it goes around,” said Woods.

But Thursday he learned how to help by speaking up and using positive words.

“Ways to help people in the classroom and ways to help people outside of school with violence, anger,” added Woods.

Humanities teacher Melanie Fox says kids learn when they feel safe in class.

“In order to make them feel safe, we have to be aware of our kind of conditioned biases and institutional biases that can really affect how we treat our students and how our students treat one another,” said Fox.

Teachers and students came up with action plans like creating pins or holding an assembly to share what they’ve learned.