Four Hunking Middle School girls want to their peers to talk about life's challenges face to face, not behind people's backs.
Eighth-graders Kathryn Morgan, Jill Petkewich, Meaghan Markey and Ciara O'Neill hosted the school's first "Guidance NOT Gossip" mentoring meeting on Oct. 18. The girls said the primary goal of their self-directed program is to guide sixth-grade girls at Hunking through their middle school transition and handle the pains of adolescence in a mature, positive fashion similar to a Big Sister, Little Sister program.
"We're not here for gossip," Ciara said to the 50 sixth-grade girls assembled in the Hunking cafeteria. "We're here to listen to your problems."
The eighth-graders' inspiration came from the Violence Intervention Prevention club's anti-bullying videos created at Haverhill High School. Meaghan said gossiping is, unfortunately, still a very common occurrance of bullying among students. With the spread of new, electronic ways of privately communicating, including cell phone texting and websites such as Facebook, Megan said the group will stress face to face conversations rather than continuing the endless cycle of messaging.
Jill added the group will also focus on develop good studying and planning skills to help them thrive during their time at Hunking. When she returned to her classes at Hunking this fall, she was surprised by just how many sixth-graders had trouble adjusting to the middle school experience.
"They walked through the halls like a deer in headlights," she said.
Currently, the eighth-graders plan to mentor as many as a dozen students at a time during study periods. While they plan to have the group meet twice a week, both the students and the administrators are still working out the logistics of the program as sixth-graders currently attend classes at the Bartlett School on the opposite side of the city. They moved there last week, after their Hunking classrooms were closed due to structural problems.
Hunking Principal David Cook said he's proud the students came up with the program on their own and want to work with the younger students. He said many students might also think twice before mocking their classmates if they know them on a first-name basis and understand how their words can hurt.
"The community and neighborhood kids will get a chance to know who each other are," Cook said.
During the last school year, Hunking students held an anti-teasing rally asking their classmates to avoid using hurtful names.