Fighting bullying with kindness: Every student in the Detroit district will get weekly classes in respect, compassion

The Detroit school district is asking all of its students and staff to sign an anti-bullying pledge to set new expectations for how people treat each other inside roughly 100 city schools.

“It’s unfortunate that we live in a day and time where we have to have a document, but respect isn’t always given and received,” said Angelique Peterson-Mayberry, a member of the board of the Detroit Public Schools Community District.

On Thursday, students across the district were introduced to the new anti-bullying initiative during school assemblies. For the rest of the school year, school counselors and social workers will give the district’s 50,000 students weekly lessons on 10 virtues such as respect, compassion, and self-control. The lessons will last between 30 minutes and an hour, said Iranetta Wright, deputy superintendent of schools.

The district, along with others in the city and state, is investing in the idea that students need to be taught to treat each other well. Roughly one in five students nationwide reports being bullied, putting them at risk of poor educational and health outcomes.

Speaking to reporters on Friday at Mann Learning Community, an elementary school in the Franklin Park neighborhood on Detroit’s west side, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the initiative is a response to issues “that our concerned parents have raised, and some of the isolated but negative situations that have occurred with individual children.”

Parents often urge the board to do something about bullying during board meetings.

At Mann on Friday, students signed anti-bullying pledge cards, which include a promise to “not engage in bullying and report bullying when I see it.”

The district will hold all its employees to the same expectation, Vitti said.

“This is about our employees as well,” he said. “It is not OK to yell ‘shut up’ to children in the classroom, or yell ‘sit down.’ Some people may say it’s the only thing that children respond to. No, that’s what we’ve acculturated children to respond to. That doesn’t make it right.”

Letoi Mitchell has lived most of her life in Franklin Park, and she attended Mann as a child.

Now her first-grader with special needs attends the school. Though the child hasn’t been bullied so far, Mitchell said she came to the press conference because she knows it’s all too common.

“I pray that it will work,” she said of the initiative.

Scroll down to read the district’s anti-bullying pledge card. Click here to learn more.