Community Action volunteers talk teasing, anger and decision-making with middle-schoolers
It has become one of the rites of spring at the Hudson Middle School. Each year Community Action youth volunteers descend on the school to present two-day workshops at all three grade levels. Sixth-grade students talk about bullying and teasing, seventh-graders about anger and conflict management, and eighth-graders about decision-making.
The workshops began about five years ago with less than a dozen youth volunteers and only one topic, bullying and teasing. Last week more than 40 volunteers, mostly from Hudson High School, came to the school to conduct workshops at every grade level.
The volunteers divide into teams and decide which of the three workshops they want to work on. With a team leader, the group goes over curriculum guides but comes up with the way to deliver the message themselves. The focus, regardless of the topic, is to engage the students quickly and get them thinking and talking about what goes on in their lives.
Alexia Concepcion is a freshman at Hudson High School, and she has been with Community Action for a year and a half. As an eighth-grader last year she worked on a bullying and teasing workshop for sixth-graders. This year she is leading one of the teams talking about anger management with seventh-graders. Other volunteers on her team are Kesley Forbes, Colleen Duley, Soua Vue and Mark Gavin.
Concepcion said she and her team members aren't that far away from their middle school years so they remember what it was like. The first challenge the team faces is getting the group's attention. "We knew we had to make it fun and get them up and moving right away if we wanted to get their attention. But to get them talking we had to kind of bribe them," said Concepcion. "We use candy. If you answer a question or make a comment, you get a piece of candy. It works pretty well to get things going."
Concepcion said they discuss with the students that getting angry is normal. It's controlling anger that can get tricky sometimes. The point of the workshop is to help them learn how to do that. They begin by giving the students a quiz entitled, "How angry to I get?"
"We talk about good anger, the kind that can be used to make things better, to change things, like in politics. You use your anger to get involved, raise awareness and change things. Bad anger is destructive and just causes trouble for everybody," said Concepcion.
The students learn about the different ways people handle their anger. They fall into categories like triangulators (alias gossips), stuffers, withdrawers, exploders and blamers. "They all understood those labels and probably all knew which one they were. One girl and one of the guys in particular really got it. They seemed to understand exactly what we were saying. That was fun to see. I wouldn't be surprised if they became trainers someday," said Concepcion.
Concepcion said she and her team worked for more than a month to prepare for their workshop but she thinks the time they spent paid off. "We were pretty pleased with how it went, and you learn some things right along with the kids in the classroom. I think hearing it from people close to their own age makes a difference, and we are still going through a lot of the same things ourselves. It's a good experience."
Concepcion is the daughter of Michael and Irene Baumgart of Hudson. She has lived in Hudson since the fifth grade. She says she will participate in the workshops again next year and thinks she may pursue a career in psychology.
Jim Mitchell coordinates the workshops and other youth service projects for Community Action. He began the workshops and said he is gratified to see so many of the students that participated over the years return as trainers.
"It is exactly what we hoped would happen. And now with workshops at every grade, we really feel we have the important bases covered. But the best part is seeing these young volunteers work so hard to make these workshops meaningful to the kids. A lot of them come back year after year, and they get better every time. It's pretty amazing how it has taken off."
Mitchell also said he appreciated the adult volunteers who accompany each team into the classroom and give up to two days of their time to do so. "We couldn't do it without them," said Mitchell.
For more information about the workshops or other youth volunteer opportunities through Community Action, call Mitchell at (715) 386-9803.
Meg Heaton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org