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Watching students relate to a president

In its coverage of President Obama’s back-to-school speech this week, Youth Radio led with his point toward the end that gets to the core of defeating bullying and cyberbullying (among other social ills!): “If you take away one thing from my speech,” the President told students at Masterman Lab School in Philadelphia, “I want you to take away the notion that life is precious, and part of what makes it so wonderful is its diversity, that all of us are different, and we shouldn’t be embarrassed by the things that make us different – we should be proud of them, because it’s the things that make us different that are what make us who we are, that make us unique.” This speaks directly to what students themselves say about who’s bullied (or cyberbullied) – see this about the Youth Voice Project.

At President Obama's back-to-school speech

A hug from the President after he was introduced by a student at the Julia R. Masterman School in Philadelphia, where he gave his 2010 back-to-school talk

Youth Radio gives a couple of examples of where school administrators weren’t modeling that appreciation for individuality and diversity. One was a female student wanting “to wear a tuxedo for her yearbook picture instead of a gown, and the principal of her school excluded her name and picture from the publication.” I’m glad Youth Radio mentioned that because, obviously – if schools want to develop the culture of respect that replaces aggression with empathy – the adult members of school communities need to model that respect.

Tech educator Kathy Shrock blogged about how her entire middle school in Massachusetts went to the auditorium to watch the President’s speech, and – because the videocamera focused on the podium in Philadelphia was placed behind the first couple of rows of students, the students in Massachusetts were watching the students in Pennsylvania for a while before the President walked onto the stage, observing whispers, nudges, use of cellphones (in school, no less!), etc. It made me smile to read Kathy’s description of how engaged the remote students were in the whole experience through the live videostreaming. Here’s just part of her reaction: “It was mind-boggling to me that the students truly felt as if they were participating in the event in Philadelphia. They acted like they were there. The virtual video stream, to them, was not even evident, and they were an attentive audience, on their best behavior, as if they were present at the event in person.” [See also “Students on bullying: Important Study” about what students say about who’s being victimized and why.]

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