The members of Seaside High School’s latest club, established this fall, are focused on disseminating a message of positivity and exhibiting respect for their peers, teachers and other acquaintances to improve the social climate of their school.
“It’s going to be a process, but we hope by the end of the school year, there will be a noticeable change,” said advisor Shirley Yates, the school’s attendance assistant.
Break the Silence, which was approved as an official club in November, was born from a movement that started last school year. A group of students organized a Happiness Sprinkling march in May, during which they took to the streets of Seaside with positive messages, yellow attire and uplifting music — an idea borrowed from the Anacortes Center for Happiness, which put on a similar demonstration in Anacortes, Washington, in May 2012.
In conjunction with the project, then senior Gage Cain, who graduated in May, wrote a rap song with lyrics that included the phrase “Break the Silence” and emphasized the importance of treating others with respect and confronting bullying.
That phrase, Break the Silence, naturally fit as the club’s title, Yates said.
“We thought, ‘that’s what we want to call our group, because that’s what we want to be about,’” she added. “It’s not anti-bullying, it’s pro-honor; we want it to be a positive thing, not an ‘anti-’ thing.”
As an official club, they elected officers to serve during the school year that include president Celeste Kerr, vice president Lola Paser-Johnson, treasurer Dalton Smith, secretary Angel Dowell, fundraising director Jaedyn Bligh, and communications director Garret Kiser.
The club meets on Wednesdays after class in the school library.
Positivity, goodwill and honor
In large part, the club was started as a response to the rampant bullying and violence — which can manifest in various ways — that pervades not only schools nationwide but other social spheres, as well. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ StopBullying.gov website, between one in four and one in three U.S. students say they’ve been bullied at school on a basis of disability, sexual orientation, race, religion and/or gender. Most bullying happens in middle school, and the most common types are verbal and social. Different demographics of students are affected at different rates.
To address the issue, however, Yates and the students hoped to provide a group that stressed a positive behavior in lieu of focusing on the negative one. Members of Break the Silence are seeking ways to show others they are valued and honored, despite differences. Their means of spreading that message include putting happiness magnets on the lockers, and each month, they will distribute cards with an affirming message to all students with a birthday in that month.
The club also participated in the Seaside Chamber of Commerce’s Parade of Lights on Nov. 24 with the intention of making people aware “they’re still here and they’re still wanting to spread a little happiness and positivity in our world,” Yates said. In addition, they plan to hold another Happiness March near the end of the school year, and Kerr will organize the event as her Pacifica Project.
“This is so new — this is our first year as an official club,” Yates said, adding they’re accepting of suggestions for other activities.
“The students’ main focus is the high school, but if there is anything they can do in the community to promote positivity or goodwill or honor, then they’re open to doing that, as well,” she said.
‘Aware of our neighbors’
The club also offers a safe, supportive place for members to talk about their own experiences – being bullied, being victimized by bullying or observing violent incidents. They discuss the appropriate responses and how to process those experiences.
“It’s not a perfect group of kids,” Yates said. “That’s okay, because they’re also getting help and talking about these issues and saying, ‘well, you did this — how could you have handled that differently?’ We’re trying in ourselves even to be better. So, it’s not like we’re saying we’ve got an answer. We just want to be a part of the change.”
In her years of experience working with young people, she’s found looking outward and serving others is an effective method for improving one’s own character and behavior.
“Part of working on yourself is looking out for other people,” she said. “We need to be more aware of our neighbors.”