Students Protecting Students
Before Julie Hertzog became the director of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, she was a concerned parent. Because her son David was born with Down syndrome, was nonverbal, and had a Pacemaker and a feeding tube, she was worried that he would be vulnerable to bullying. As she advocated for her son with school staff, she realized how much student interaction happens outside the view of adults.
Recognizing that David’s classmates could be powerful allies for her son in bullying situations, Hertzog worked with the school to create a unique support for him while he was in sixth grade. A group of his classmates received training disability and on how to prevent bullying and speak out on David’s behalf. They called these students peer advocates. If they see bullying they can intervene, talk privately with the person who is bullying, help remove David from the situation or report to an adult.
The idea worked for David. Now what started with four children in sixth grade has evolved to a school wide project. More than 40 students volunteer to become peer advocates so they can help David and other students with disabilities. The program continues today in the middle school and students from the original pilot that are now in high school championed with their administration to start a program at their school. It’s a strategy that any parent and educators can explore.
Learn more about implementing a peer advocacy program in your school here.