Middle School Takes New Approach to Combat Bullying and Foster Inclusion

Student Council met and groups presented ideas to foster inclusive and meaningful school-wide events (photo S Jason Cole).

Excelsior Springs Middle School, under the leadership of Principal Dr. Brett Coffman and with the initiative of 6th-grade teacher Micaela Brooke, has taken significant steps towards addressing bullying and promoting positive behavior among its students. The introduction of the People of All Colors Succeed Equity In Action (POAC) Program marks a transformative approach to cultivating a culture of respect, kindness, and inclusion within the school.

Principal Coffman, who transitioned from his previous role as an assistant principal at the high school, recognized the urgent need to address disciplinary challenges and the effects of bullying pervasive in schools nationwide. Upon his arrival at the middle school, Coffman implemented stringent disciplinary measures to curb negative behaviors, such as fighting and vaping, which, while effective, also led to increased suspension rates and lowered attendance figures.

In a proactive move, sixth-grade teacher Micaela Brooke proposed the adoption of the POAC Program after witnessing the lack of interpersonal skills among middle schoolers. The program, recommended to Brooke by colleagues in other districts, emphasizes understanding the unseen struggles of peers and fosters thought-provoking conversations aimed at promoting kindness, inclusion, and equity. “POAC is all about learning the other 90% of a person’s story. You see someone, maybe even daily, but you might only know 10% of what they’re dealing with,” said Brooke.

Funded through the Clay County Children’s Fund, the program has already shown promising results. One hundred twenty students are undergoing training, with plans to double that number next year. The curriculum is integrated into the school day, spread across four one-hour sessions over four weeks. It covers critical topics such as the dangers of labels, understanding biases, allyship, and a call to action through a “Gold Standard Pledge.”

The impact of the POAC Program has been immediate and profound. “The thing I love the most about this program is that students learn proactive approaches to things and feel empowered to stand up,” said Brooke. Dr. Coffman recounted an incident where he witnessed a new student being teased,  but a group of students in the POAC program spoke up in the student’s defense. Coffman said, “Those students stepped up and said, ‘Hey, we don’t do that here, you guys can’t do that.’ Seeing them help that kid on his first day was a great feeling, and knowing that was his introduction to our school. It’s a change of culture, a change of mindset.” 

"I think it was good. I’ve seen less bullying now. It’s made big impacts on lots of kids, and they’ve been nicer to each other." - Emery Sykes
"I thought it was really good to learn about the 90% of other people’s stories that you don’t see on the surface. To be honest it has made school a better place. POAC has really helped this school." -Emiliano Minjares
"It was inspiring because a lot of people have trouble with getting bullied, and it was a good thing for people to go through because they could be getting bullied or be the bully. It helped them realize that people were going through a lot in life, and they don’t even know." - Braelyn Dowdy.

The POAC Program is not merely an anti-bullying initiative but a comprehensive approach to understanding diversity and promoting equity. It is designed to work alongside existing school programs, enhancing the educational experience by equipping students with the tools necessary for empathy, understanding, and resilience. The curriculum moves beyond traditional boundaries, focusing on empowerment and proactive strategies for a more positive school experience for everyone involved.

As Excelsior Springs Middle School continues to implement and expand the POAC Program, the vision is clear: to nurture a generation of students who understand the value of diversity and inclusion and are equipped to stand up for justice and kindness. Through its staff’s dedication and the community’s support, Excelsior Springs Middle School is striving to set a new standard for educational excellence and social responsibility. The journey towards a more equitable and compassionate future is well underway, with every student playing a vital role in this transformative process.

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