Every day, thousands of children in schools across America fall victim to bullying at the hands of their peers. It’s an epidemic that threatens the emotional development of students, and can lead to long-term health and mental issues if left unaddressed.
But bullying is not just a physical act, as many students experience the painful and often invisible scarring brought on by verbal abuse. That’s why educators and concerned organizations have teamed up to spotlight the powerful influence that words can have on others during the 9th annual “No Name-Calling Week,” celebrated from January 21st to January 25th in schools across the country.
No Name-Calling Week (NNCW) was first started in 2004 as a partnership between the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, and has quickly grown to include over 40 national partner organizations. The week was inspired by author James Howe’s young-adult novel The Misfits, a story of four best friends who team up to survive the rigors of 7th grade despite relentless verbal bullying because of their weight, height, intelligence, and sexual orientation/gender expression. The friends create a new political party in the school known as the “No-Name Party” and are able to win student council elections by running on a platform of no more name-calling in schools—a victory that prompts the school principal in the story to establish a “No-Name Calling Day.”
Although the week is designed as a way for students to reflect on the harmful effect that words can have, the hope is that students will become more mindful of the ways they interact with their peers.
“While NNCW sheds light on these issues, it is hoped that through the lessons and activities students not only learn that words can hurt, but also develop respectful attitudes and the habit of using words of kindness,” says Robert McGarry, the Director of Education at GLSEN.
The NNCW website offers educators of all grade levels a variety of different resources and lesson plans for celebrating the week with their students. Teachers can choose from an assortment of engaging activities on the site for their own classrooms, many of which have been successfully implemented in schools.
“Educators report a wide variety of school-based activities (many that have been added to the website offerings) that include assembly programs, Word Walls of Kindness, pledges, art exhibits, playground games (such as the one used in the NNCW Physical Education lesson), writing, artwork, and school-wide rituals that symbolically remove words that hurt from the school environment,” says McGarry.
Students and teachers in the Kyrene School District, located in Maricopa County, Arizona, have actively participated in the week for the last several years. Utilizing the offerings from the NNCW website, educators in the district have teamed up with their students to tackle the problem of verbal bullying head on.
“Students are not only educated on the effects of bullying, but also on ways to handle and deescalate situations,” says Tonya Davis, a 7th grade English teacher at Altadeña Middle School and the chair of the district’s No-Name Calling Week Committee. “In Kyrene, our main focus is not just on bullying itself. Instead, we try and focus more on how the students and faculty can create a culture of safety and acceptance.”
Throughout the week’s observance, students in the Kyrene schools organize different activities that are spearheaded by the student organizations at each school in the district. Whether it is daily spirit days that encourage students to dress up in accordance with a particular theme (“Wacky Wednesday,” Backwards Day, and Superhero Day to name a few), or creativity contests that engage students to use their talents to highlight the affects of words, the week’s activities have become a way for teachers to help create the type of learning environment that every child deserves.
“It is important to teach students about bullying because kids often do not think about the consequences of their actions,” says Davis. “Our hope is that this initiative, paired with others through out the year, will foster an environment where students are impacting their peers’ lives in a positive way.”