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‘You CAN sit with me!’ The teacher making a difference to bullying

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It’s the problem that’s all too common- schoolyard bullying. But after seeing how conflict is affecting kids, teacher Sophie Whitehouse became determined to make a difference. She founded the anti-bullying initiative YOU CAN SIT WITH ME to support children suffering from anxiety, depression and feelings of isolation.

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The wristbands

I have been a teacher for over 25 years and have been blessed to work with children from all over the world from Australia to Ethiopia so I have been lucky enough to teach children of varying ages, races, religions and educational needs. My experience has ranged from teaching in the classroom to supporting home schooled children and private tutoring through my current business Sophie Whitehouse Educational Consultancy. What I have experienced over the years is that whilst education continues to move forward there is a real problem in communities and it is affecting our precious children.

It is a problem that has kept me awake at night because I was deeply concerned about what I was witnessing in the playground and from talking to the students who I work with.

Children have been suffering and continue to suffer from anxiety, depression and loneliness as a result of bullying or feeling isolated. It is a problem that I really felt was getting worse and not better.

Children that I work with would often talk to me about how they worry about going to school, and when they’re at school they sometimes feel isolated and that they don’t have anyone to sit with or play with. Others have told me about dreadful cases of being bullied by other children.

So I began to talk to colleagues who also reported the same findings which lead me to do some research and found the statistics to back up what we all felt was becoming a real epidemic. Statistics do vary from country to country but a shockingly high percentage of children have been bullied. The below statistics have been sourced from ‘Ditch the label’ – anti bullying campaign based on 2015:

* 50% of young people have bullied another person, and 30% do it at least once a week

* 69% of young people have witnessed somebody else being bullied, and 43% see it at least once a week

* 74% of those who have been bullied, have, at some point been physically attacked

* 17% have been sexually assaulted

62% have been cyber bullied

* As a result of bullying, 29% self-harmed, 27% skipped class, 14% developed an eating disorder and 12% no longer could attend school

3I really felt I had to take a stance and do something to make a difference so that cases of bullying and childhood anxiety started to decrease. I thought long and hard about how to tackle this problem and then one day five very simple words popped into my head. Five very simple words that I strongly believe can help strengthen our schools and communities: YOU CAN SIT WITH ME. It really is a very simple message that can change lives and I couldn’t love those five words any more if I tried!

Very simply, the campaign encourages children to wear a highly visible $2 wristband that simply states ‘YOU CAN SIT WITH ME’. It means that a child who feels lonely or isolated or who has been a victim of bullying can go and sit with a peer who is wearing one of the wristbands and know they will be included and welcome to sit there.

My goal with YOU CAN SIT WITH ME is to embed this anti-bullying and kindness campaign in all Australian schools and sporting clubs to support their current anti-bullying initiatives. Each school may implement YOU CAN SIT WITH ME to best suit their current policies but we have set some guidelines to help those schools that come on board.

It has been an absolute whirlwind since launching this campaign in January this year and I have to say how proud I am of all the kind, generous and community minded people who have jumped on board to support us.

Since launching via our Facebook page we have over 2,500 likes and have the support of generous Australian celebrities who have agreed to come on board as our official Ambassadors such as Neil Perry, Jessica Rowe, Peter Overton, Natalie Gruzlewski, Sophie Falkiner, Tim Wallace, Manu Feildel and Jackie Mackenzie.

We have also partnered with some amazing Australian professionals to guide our policies and the work we do with young children. One of our partners is The Australian Literacy and Numeracy foundation who work with children in the most marginalised communities to give them access to literacy programmes. What is really fantastic is that a portion of the profit from the sale of the wristbands goes directly back to this official partner. Therefore by supporting YOU CAN SIT WITH ME people get to support two great causes in one.

I really want all Australian schools and sporting clubs to jump on board and support our message. We are constantly adding content to our website which is full of information for schools and clubs that want to implement YOU CAN SIT WITH ME.

YOU CAN SIT WITH ME, together we can change lives!

Click here to order your YOU CAN SIT WITH ME wristbands online, to help raise awareness and make a real difference in our school yards.

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