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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Pupils act as mentors at UAE schools to beat the bullies

Anti-bullying groups and friendly mentors are hoping to improve pupils' happiness

Bill Delbrugge, head of Dunecrest American School, says his door is always open to pupils with concerns. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Bill Delbrugge, head of Dunecrest American School, says his door is always open to pupils with concerns. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Dubai pupils are acting as mentors to victims of bullying after a survey revealed one in four children felt unsafe at school.

The Dubai Student Well-being Census found that 23 per cent of nearly 65,000 Grade 6 to 9 pupils at 168 schools did not feel safe in the classroom.

Buddy systems, in which pupils are paired up to ensure no child is left alone, are being set up to tackle the problem.

At Dunecrest American School in Dubai, a group of pupils have decided that no one should have to sit by themselves during lunchtime.

They walk through the halls and if they notice someone is having a bad day, they talk to them.

It is an inclusive attitude that starts at the top. The school’s headmaster, Bill Delbrugge, has an open-door policy.

Mr Delbrugge has his office in a landing area so that pupils can approach him easily.

“Guidance counsellors and I check with pupils and ask them questions,” he said.

“It's not just about their academic performance, it’s also about the pupil as a person and his or her life.

“Open the doors and ask them about what is going in their lives.”

Denise Kenny, a counsellor at the Jumeirah Baccalaureate School, said pupils went through the well-being census and suggested changes at the school.

Home rooms have more than one grade in each, allowing pupils across age groups to mingle and older youths to support younger children.

"The setup of the room has been changed so there is more time for pupils to talk to each other,” she said.

Mark McAdam, deputy head of secondary at Gems Metropole School in Motor City, said the school focused on ensuring inclusion.

“Having a clear vision of what the school needs to do is important,” Mr McAdam said.

Foj Obac, 16, from South Sudan, said the school’s system of having prefects helps to report bullying because pupils see them as approachable.

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“Some pupils are afraid to speak with teachers,” Foj said. “Having pupils around who can report it helps.

Brazilian pupil Aya Adib, 15, also at Gems Metropole, believes there needs to be a more open discussion on bullying.

“We need to talk more about bullying,” Aya said. “Having more workshops and more assemblies would help.”

Schools in Abu Dhabi are also working towards making children feel safer.

Nicholas Washbrook, assistant principal Al Yasmina Academy, asked parents to fill out a survey and found that 80 per cent felt their children were happy and safe at school.

“Our question was for that 20 per cent, what could we do better?” he said.

The school asked parents to form an anti-bullying party.

Having anonymous options to report bullying makes pupils feel safe when talking about these issues, Mr Washbrook said.

“If any school says their school doesn’t have bullying, I would question and challenge that,” he said. “We try to make it more proactive by organising bullying prevention weeks and linking with initiatives across the world. This will reduce repeat instances of bullying,” he said.

Tara Al Marzooqi, a Year 13 pupil at Al Yasmina, said the school’s peer-mentoring programme where pupils helped each other to overcome difficult times benefited many.

“Younger pupils shouldn’t feel intimidated to reach out to teachers and guiding pupils in the right direction is important,” Tara said.

Bertram Taylor, vice principal of pastoral at Adnoc Schools’ Madinat Zayed campus, said counselling was crucial in helping children to feel safe.

“We tackle the issue of bullying head-on,” Mr Taylor said. “Following up every single day is very important as is tackling underlying issues.”

He said group counselling helped to bring down the incidence of bullying.

Carolyn Yaffe, a behavioural therapist at Camali Clinic in Dubai, said schools must have a clear vision to make sure pupils feel happy and safe.

Ms Yaffe said schools should put together vision statements, and teachers and administrators should work with police to ensure safety is a policy.

She said bullying could be easy to miss, particularly in larger schools, so teachers must remain vigilant.

“One of the fears pupil show is to speak up as they are afraid of the retaliation or the bullying getting worse,” Ms Yaffe said.