If Mildred Pearson can stop even one child from being bullied or committing suicide, she knows all her work was worth it.
That’s why Pearson, an associate professor in Eastern’s Department of Early Childhood, Elementary, and Middle Level Education, is taking all steps possible to teach her students bully prevention methods for when they become teachers themselves.
This kind of change cannot be done overnight, Pearson said.
“It cannot be a one-time stop-and-shop,” she said. “It has to be ongoing development.”
To raise awareness for this, she first assembled a conference against bullying in 2011 in response to the record-high number of suicides in a 100-mile radius of Charleston. The conference, now named the Bridging Voice in Our Community Bullying Conference, took place this year on Oct. 11.
Now, she wants to take it one step further.
Pearson’s MLE 4760 (Student-Social/Emotional Development in the Middle Grades) students will be going to schools in Mattoon and Paris, Ill., in November to develop lessons focusing on ways to prevent bullying. Each of her students will be mentored by a teacher at the schools for two weeks and will then teach a mini-lesson and a full lesson focusing on how to prevent bullying and how children can respond if they do see bullying.
Cody McCollum, a senior education major who presented at the conference on suicide, is planning skits for students to help them recognize bullying and what to do if they see it happening to someone else.
He also knows that bullying can come from outside the classroom, especially now that students have access to all types of media, including television, movies and the Internet.
Pearson said bullying on social media has taken the reigns as the leading cause of victimization. She said people who have been bullied sometimes then turn into the bullies themselves, just like Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza.
“That kid was socially ostracized,” she said.
“Most people look at a physical bullying, but it’s verbal and emotional, too, and that’s just as detrimental because it’s long-lasting. We pay so much attention to the victim's needs, and we should, but we need to pay attention to the bully’s, too.”
Bullying can sometimes take an even more serious turn, which is why Miranda Buob, a senior education major, focused her research on how teachers can intervene with students who may be susceptible to gang activity.
Buob, who is from Bloomington, said she never experienced gang activity before her summers teaching middle school-aged children in the Chicago school district, and seeing the effects of bullying on her students completely changed her outlook on teaching.
“It’s really eye-opening to see what even young students have to go through on a daily basis and how it affects their safety,” she said. “They can’t learn if they feel unsafe.”
She said middle-school level children are more likely to be recruited by gangs because they are under 18 and would receive lesser court sentences if arrested.
Because of this, she said it is important for teachers to proactive to make sure students know they have options, like sports or extracurricular activities. Anything, Buob said, to show students their family can be found in the classroom if they don’t have one outside of it.
Without having someone there for them, “students shipwreck. They just give up,” Pearson said.
Pearson said Eastern teachers are being taught how to be there for students when maybe no one else is.
“One word or phrase -- that’s all it takes,” she said. “Something like ‘If you need to talk’ or ‘Just know I’m thinking about you’ can be so minor to me, but it was major to the receiver of that information.”
Pearson said some students without this support system are not resilient enough to bounce back from even from minor bullying, and it can stick with them for years to come. It bothers her then, she said, when people then tell children to “toughen up.”
“What happens to the tender heart?” she asked. “That individual’s needs need to be met just as much as the person who is able to rebound.”