Inside Tanner Hall at Placerita Junior High School on Wednesday morning, each student and even some adults had playing cards attached to their backs with a piece of blue tape.
Students would shake hands, hold on and take a peek at each other’s backs.
“Can we hang?” said some while others shook their heads and flashed a dirty look.
The students were instructed that each of the cards on their backs held value and to treat their peers based on that value.
Those with low-numbered cards were ditched for someone with a higher card.
Higher cards received compliments and even an occasional bow.
This exercise showcased prejudice, the notion of being judged before knowing somebody.
“You got to take those cards off. They don’t get to take those cards off,” said instructor Michele Tait, referring to those who are treated daily the way the role-playing activity showed.
Approximately 60 students were selected by staff members to participate in Placerita’s Safe School Ambassadors program on Wednesday that has been a part of the school for nearly 20 years. Each student was selected because they were seen as leaders among their friends.
Judie Blevins, a Placerita instructor, said this is done with the hopes that what they learn can help them implement anti-bullying practices for themselves, then their friends and the rest of the campus.
“I had a bully in junior high school, one guy, and I know if somebody would have stopped it, it would have made a difference,” said Blevins. “I think it really changes the trajectory of somebody’s life.”
The students who participated in the training from last year, eighth graders, will be in attendance on Thursday to reflect on their year in practice as well as help the trainees for this year.
“We have seen so many kids after going through this training, who have come to us and stopped fights and when they know they can’t handle it themselves, they have turned to a trusted adult and stopped some serious things on this campus,” said Blevins.
The aforementioned activity “Luck of the Draw” had students reflecting on just how it felt to treat others based off one object.
Some of the students agreed that it was really hard to treat their friends badly and one said she felt it was a direct reflection on today’s society.
“I felt betrayed because of the object on my back,” said one of the students.
The students’ interactions in the activity also showcased the types of mistreatments that flashed on the screen in the slideshow – exclusions, bullying, unwanted physical contact and acts against campus.
The next activity, “Cross the Line,” took the opposite approach and asked for everyone to be completely silent.
All of the students stood in one line, shoulder to shoulder, outside Tanner Hall.
As Blevins read a statement, the students were instructed to “cross the line” if the statement was true by stepping forward, turning backward and then returning to their spot for the next one.
“I have been teased or made fun of because I’ve worn glasses.”
“I’ve been teased or insulted because of my culture, background, heritage or race.”
“I have called other people hurtful names to their face.”
“I have heard or seen something happening that I wanted to stop,” Blevins read off.
Every student stepped up at some point in the exercise. All of the students stepped up when they were asked if they had ever been bullied, insulted or made fun of.
Students acknowledged each other’s bravery and openness to being vulnerable in the reflection period that followed. They were surprised to see just how much they all had in common.
“You realize how much these kids are going through at such a young age, some of them,” said Blevins. “It really makes me more sensitive in my teaching, as well, to treat people and realize they are something outside of the classroom.”
After Thursday, the students will have completed their SSA training and go on to conduct monthly action logs, reporting actions they took to decrease bullying on their campus.