The image of a student separated from his or her peers, picked on, and at times physically abused at school is one that is seared in the consciousness of every parent. Bullying is a persistent concern across the United States that spans the generational divide. Most people know someone who has been bullied or has been bullied him/herself.
One Unity College class helps elementary students develop skills to address bullying and other problems that are all too common in American schools. The key is to learn empathy, concern for others, and how to work collaborative in-group settings.
During the spring 2013 semester, Unity students conducted team building exercises at the Captain Albert Stevens School in Belfast, then branched out in service to all RSU elementary schools.
The team building exercises pursued the theme of interconnection and increasing positive awareness of self, group and the natural world. Activities with Unity students have helped the elementary school students develop social interaction and problem solving skills, elements necessary for empowering entire schools to promote positive internal cultures that are not conducive to bullying and related problems.
Beth Arnold, an Assistant Professor who teaches the course Adventure Facilitation, sees benefits for all involved. The Unity College students are able to apply knowledge and theory related to adventure education and see its effects with real groups, while the elementary students enjoy interacting with college-aged students. Both groups are high energy, enthusiastic participants in a program designed to build long-term life skills.
The Unity students developed a range of activities that addressed the specific needs of a variety of learning groups.
“During the seven week class, Unity students worked with each other to acquire the knowledge and skill base to deliver the programming,” noted Arnold. “Facilitators met with four groups of elementary students. Those groups addressed sports, social justice, adventure, dance and movement.”
The elementary students chose which groups to join based on their personal interests.
“Unity students provided a broad range of activities specifically designed for the group they were working with,” noted Arnold. Since the elementary students were interested in the topic at the outset, their ability to learn new information and develop a range of team-oriented skills was exceptional.
What the facilitators do is build teams, and what the participants do is develop an awareness of what it means to be a team member. The long-term results may be positive for the elementary school as a whole.
“Elementary students who possess collaborative, team oriented social skills become change agents who improve the general atmosphere of their schools,” said Arnold. “Those outcomes don’t happen overnight, and like any relationship they need to be fostered and worked on.”
The improved perspective on social skills gained by elementary students help them to develop their own positive groups, work in teams, and create a culture of inclusion.
When schools are positive environments filled with validation for all, the negative energy that bullying needs to survive is eliminated. That may not have been the primary goal of the Unity College experiential learning, team-building exercises, but it can be one among other positive outcomes.
Arnold says that the Unity students, who are all focused on becoming adventure leadership educators, have grown in a variety of important ways. The training that Unity students received went far beyond their work with RSU elementary schools.
“Unity students have spent time investigating the imperative of their education as sustainability educators while they shadowed and have run programming in these community learning opportunities,” noted Arnold. The students also job shadowed a variety of non-formal education and therapeutic organizations including Outward bound, Kieve, Chewonki, Casco Bay Expeditionary High School, Coastal Studies for Girls, Community School, and China Middle School Project Reach.
In recent years Unity College has gained national attention for a variety of achievements including for its focus on sustainability science, the leading-edge of 21st century ecological problem solving and the vanguard in the fight for the mitigation of global climate change; its ground-breaking “green” innovations such as the award-winning TerraHaus, the first student residence on a college or university campus built to the Passive House standard, the most energy efficient building standard in the world; and being the first college in the United States to divest from investments in fossil fuels, igniting a growing national movement in higher education.
Unity College is a private college in rural Maine that provides dedicated, engaged students with a liberal arts education that emphasizes the environment and natural resources. Unity College graduates are prepared to be environmental stewards, effective leaders, and responsible citizens through active learning experiences within a supportive community.