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Stand Up to Bullying Youth Rally Printer friendly format

By Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D.
Consultant to the VIRTUS® Programs

happy girl looking at cameraYouth pep rallies for middle and high school athletic teams have been going on for decades; they serve multiple purposes, all of which are quite important. First, it really heightens school spirit—and if I am a student I want to be excited about my school and believe in its chance and ability for success and victory. Second, it is related to our identity, and our desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves. You are not alone; you are supporting something and working towards something together, with your peers. Third, pep rallies break up the monotony of the school routine, and provide a fun, energetic, and inspiring outlet for everyone. 

In recent years, some schools have started to hold rallies to promote academic success (instead of only athletic success) and creatively recognize those on the Dean’s List, Honor Roll, or others who serve the community. We are also starting to see a trend where some schools—spearheaded by motivated, passionate educators and teens—decide to put on an anti-bullying pep rally. Since the student body will be unfamiliar with the reason for a rally, it will be up to interested students and faculty/staff to come up with a really enjoyable, meaningful experience. The rally could be a time where students, parents, educators and diocesan leaders can work together to: 

  1. Talk about how bullying, drama, and other conflicts are specifically affecting your school and the students in it (be real, be honest, and speak from the heart!).
  2. Share about how, in order for everyone to have a great school year, it has got to stop.
  3. Tie it into the fact that everyone is a Greyhound or Dolphin (etc.), and how being a part of this group means that there is a responsibility to do the right thing. 
  4. Invite a speaker who can do a great job getting everyone to truly understand the pain that bullying/cyberbullying causes.
  5. Invite a DJ to get everyone pumped up about belonging to the school, being a Yankee or Titan or Warrior, and doing the right thing (even when it is hard).

The objective is not to preach, lecture, or drone on and on with a furrowed brow about how kids should not bully each other. They know it is wrong. The objective is to create a formal, but fun, event at your school where everyone can get together and rally around a cause. This requires a delicate balance in the contents of the rally, and a strategic approach to the event’s structure, but is very doable.

Case Example: Stand Up to Bullying Rally

Over the last year, a particular Catholic Diocese has been implementing a comprehensive bullying prevention and response program in 20 Catholic schools within our five-county area. A team comprised of leadership from around the Diocese was established to work together on this critical initiative and to collaborate with Diocesan leadership staff. 

As part of this implementation, we decided we wanted to put on a youth rally, and determined the best way to garner interest and participation was to hold contests for youth in each school. These would be designed to promote a “Stand Up To Bullying” mentality and environment in our Diocese and to demonstrate to all how strongly we feel about this issue. 

The contests were different depending on grade level so that they would be age-appropriate. Several teachers particularly promoted the projects and parents were encouraged to actively support their children. Contests included the following activities: a logo for a T-shirt; a letter to God or the President, creative posters; a poem, song, or rap; an essay; or a Public Service Announcement Video (PSA). Of course, they had to prominently convey a “Stand Up to Bullying” message.

Schools were responsible for selecting 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners. Personal invitations were sent to every winner, asking them to attend the upcoming Youth Rally and be honored by our Bishop (which, of course, is a very big deal). 

The day of the Rally involved a great deal of preparation. We borrowed a gymnasium, enlisted a marching band, set up food, and displayed various entries, including PSA videos and Power Points on laptops and projectors. 

Honestly, we didn’t know if anyone would show up. The event was to begin at 7 p.m., and at around 6:30 p.m., the first family arrived. And then came another. And another. And from that trickle, it became a flood—we had over 400 people show up! They were able to mill about, check out the contest submissions all around the auditorium, meet and chat with their friends, neighbors, and colleagues, and enjoy the evening together. Students from each respective school came with signs, banners, or a flag, or some way of identifying themselves to the rest of the crowd, and when we began, we had “Shout-Outs” so that each group could make some noise and represent themselves—just like at a normal pep rally! 

The rest of the Youth Rally involved a number of elements. We first had a student share a prayer he wrote for bullying victims. We then had a formal address by the Bishop, who shared his views about bullying, and sincerely commended all participants. We showed a few of the best Public Service Announcement videos to the entire seated audience, and then facilitated the awarding of signed certificates from the Bishop. With the help of an energetic and fun emcee, we also raffled off prizes and gift cards donated by local businesses. When it was over, everyone enjoyed refreshments, walked around again to take in the contest submissions, posed for pictures and celebrated what they were able to contribute. 

Through this effort, we demonstrated tangibly that the Diocese cares very much about the issue, and that we need students, parents and educators on board to help us. We wanted to send a message that it is “cool to care,” to make kindness “go viral” and to get our school communities fired up about this issue, and then do what it took to help create a positive school climate. We believe this effort contributed significantly toward the goal of raising awareness and improving teens’ attitudes around the issues of aggression and bullying in school and online. We are already planning for next year’s youth rally, and know it will be even bigger because of how well-received and regarded this first one was. 

In closing, we highly recommend that other Dioceses and organizations do something similar. Something of this nature could even be implemented on a smaller scale through regional youth groups or religious education programs. My leadership team is happy to advise you accordingly, because bullying and cyberbullying is not just our problem, it is everyone’s problem. And everyone must do their part to address it!


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