ATLANTA- Officials at the Southern Poverty Law Center have named Ivy Preparatory Young Men’s Leadership Academy in DeKalb County as a “Mix Model” school for its efforts to curb bullying and to promote a supportive environment of respect among scholars.
The Alabama-based group will honor the work of IPYMLA teacher Shandreka West and her fourth grade class next month at an Anti-Bullying Summit in Peachtree City on June 18. West has been invited to speak at the Auburn University summit and share the outcome of a class project that transformed learning and united fourth graders in the charter school for boys.
“It is an honor to be recognized,” said West, who has been an educator for eight years. “The work that we are doing is encouraging students to make new friends, celebrate each other’s successes and perform random acts of kindness for their classmates. As a result, we have a more welcoming environment and fewer conflicts between students.”
In Oct. 27, West’s classroom celebrated national “Mix It Up Day”, a campaign of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program that challenges children to leave their comfort zone and cliques behind to have lunch with students that they don’t know. West decided to take it a step further and temporarily merge class activities with Ivy Prep’s other fourth grade teacher, Stephanie Mathurin, for two weeks to have a larger impact on scholars.
Some fourth graders were hesitant about the change. Others made fast friends.
“At first, I was nervous because this is my first year, and I don’t really know everyone,” said Jordan Taylor, 10. But after a few days of seeing new faces at lunch and on the playground, Taylor’s circle of fourth grade friends doubled. “I got to know more and more people. It gave me a chance to talk to them about school and their hobbies.”
Soon blossoming friendships ended awkwardness in lunch lines and tense moments on the playground between students who had previously been strangers to each other. West said fourth graders became so comfortable “mixing it up” that they asked for collaborative opportunities during the school day.
“They asked if they could ‘mix it up’ during target time,” West said. “Usually, when we are working on content areas, they don’t really get together to collaborate and share strategies. They really like the interaction.”
Scholar Keonte Knight, 10, said the outreach project gave him more study partners.
“We help each other and give each other a head’s up when we are learning something new.”
For Terrell George, 10, it was a family reunion. “Some of the kids in the other class I have known since kindergarten,” George said. “We caught up on everything we missed since we were split up into different classrooms.”
In addition to spending time bonding, scholars began to do kind things for each other and publicly praise each other during “shout-outs” for excellent work.
West wrote about her classroom experience on an application to be a Mix It Up model candidate. She was recently notified that IPYMLA was chosen as a 2015 Mix Model School.
“We were very impressed by your testimony of your program’s effects on bullying at your school,” Monita Bell, Mix It Up Coordinator, said in a note to West.
Mrs. Victoria Wiley, executive director of Ivy Preparatory Academies, credited West for the recognition and praised her initiative. “Ms. West’s collaborative strategies are making an impact on the education of her scholars,” Wiley said. “We applaud her.”
West is preparing for her talk at the conference and making plans to expand next year’s celebration. “Maybe next year we can mix it up with the fifth grade so when our scholars make the transition there, they will already be experts,” she said.
For more information, visit www.tolerance.org.