As seniors at the University of Missouri studying special education, we reflect on our time that has been spent working in the Bully Prevention Lab. Two years ago, members of the BPL and Dr. Rose came into one of our classes to tell us about an opportunity to get paid to teach social skills to kids in the local school districts. At the time, we were trying to figure out how we were going to balance preservice teaching, work, and school work while still having a social life. When we heard about the opportunity to get paid to teach and do what we love before we even graduated, we jumped at the opportunity. We joined the Bully Prevention Lab because we love to take on the challenge of working with students deemed as arduous. Who would not want to be a part of the effort to put an end to bullying in their school district? This seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to co-teach while working with our favorite population of students. Little did we know we would create relationships with students that made us want Thursdays to come faster and faster. We had no idea that we would soon fall in love with middle school. We definitely had no idea that we would get to see how much we actually made a difference in the school environment as well as our students’ lives. We have now been a part of the Lab for two years and cannot believe our time at Mizzou and in the Bully Prevention Lab is coming to an end.
Every Thursday, we would drive about 30 minutes outside of Columbia to work in two K-8th grade schools and one high school. We had a total of 7 groups of students we would meet with throughout the day, from second grade to high school. After the first week of introductions and games, we had these kids hooked. Each week, the students began to see themselves in the curriculum and scenarios we talked about. They would tell us stories of how they felt angry and sad, but they did not know what to do about it so they would hurt someone else physically or verbally. This was our first time dealing with these hard conversations where sometimes, we did not know the answer or what to say. The truth was, we were hooked too. We saw sweet, caring, and compassionate people through these difficult stories they told us. They had a lot of emotion that they did not know what to do with. They needed a champion in their corner, and we became that to them.
Choosing to make the Bully Prevention Lab a large part of our lives was a decision we made because we saw the lab’s worth. We saw how our relationships and these conversations had a positive effect on these students on the receiving end. Thursdays quickly became our favorite day of the week because it means that we get to support these little minds in their confusion and frustration. We have had the opportunity to be front and center in the process of a student choosing to make the right decision. Before providing support with the Cool School curriculum used as part of the Bully Prevention Lab, these students probably would have made the wrong decision. These situations have shown us how valuable our social skill implementation can be for students.
We are better teachers because of this research lab. We learned how to co-teach, plan, and collaborate with professionals such as school psychologists, counselors, vice principals, and the Special Education Department head. Most importantly we learned how to talk through tough conversations with kids who did not want to talk, kids who had given up on working through upsetting situations, or kids who had given up on going to adults for help. Some of these kiddos may have felt as if they did not have a voice before our time with them, but we gave them their voice. We were there to listen to them when they needed it. Although the Bully Prevention Lab is made with the intention to better the lives of students, it also betters the lives of the adults that work in it. We would not be the educators we are today without the opportunities we have had with the Mizzou Ed Bully Prevention Lab. Our undergraduate experiences would have looked much different without our involvement in the lab, and we wouldn’t trade it for the world.