(October 23, 2019 -- Jersey City) The Explore Middle School Peer Leaders held their first ever “Mix it Up” Day which included special guest speaker John Halligan sharing “Ryan’s Story”.
“Mix it Up” is an international campaign promoted by Teaching Tolerance that encourages students to identify, question, and cross social boundaries by interacting with peers they normally do not.
Students at Explore spent their “Mix it Up” day split into mixed grade level groups completing different activities facilitated by their Peer Leaders. The day began with ice breakers which gave the students a chance to learn more about each other as they prepared for an assembly where they would hear “Ryan’s Story”.
In October of 2003, John Halligan lost his 13 year old son, Ryan, to suicide. It was revealed in greater detail, after Ryan’s death, that he was humiliated and bullied by his peers at his middle school and online.
Since then, Mr. Halligan has made it his life’s work to spread the need for awareness and prevention of bullying, cyberbullying, and teen suicide in the United States, Canada, and Latin America. He has traveled to over 2,000 schools to share “Ryan’s Story”.
While speaking with the students and staff at Explore, Mr. Halligan focused on encouraging students to understand that they can play a major role in suicide and bullying prevention. Halligan repeatedly expressed to the students that speaking up, talking to their parents, and keeping adults at school informed are all necessary steps in order to help their peers or even themselves.
“Sometimes, it’s just a matter of standing up to your friends,” Halligan explained after the assembly. “If we just keep it simple with the kids, just remind them, be an “upstander”, not a bystander. It’s also important that they remember if they have been bullied, forgiveness is key. And if they have bullied someone, there’s always an opportunity to make amends.”
Following the assembly, the students met with their Peer Leaders again to have an open discussion about Mr. Halligan’s and Ryan’s story. Afterwards, the students completed activities concentrated on how to handle different bullying scenarios and how they can work together to prevent bullying in their school community.
Peer Leader advisor, Michelene Calabrese, was proud of the hard work the students put into the day. “Ultimately we wanted our students to feel comfortable around one another and feel confident in seeking help for a peer if necessary. The students participated in excellent group conversations and the peer leaders did a wonderful job of being empathetic and understanding as they facilitated. It was a great day.”
“I thought the whole day was very good. I thought it was a great experience because I got to grow closer with my “pups” and we developed stronger bonds. After some heavy discussions and completing some emotional activities, we decided to sing together to lighten the mood and feel better and that made us all feel a little closer. I felt like everyone in my group felt more open because we gave them the time and the opportunity to be,” 8th grader Peer Leader Andrea Gonzalez.