On a December Monday afternoon at John Milledge Academy (JMA), the halls are relatively empty except for the nearly 20 Georgia College students patiently waiting for the final bell.
“We get to really talk to the kids and the more you talk to them, the more you see they look up to us,” said first-year pre-nursing major Chuck O’Neal.
O’Neal is part of the GC1Y course that focused on critical thinking to solve social issues in society. Sociology Lecturer Eryn Viscarra has seen the class evolve in her three semesters teaching the course. In 2015, she was part of the ENGAGE Apprentice Cohort, which helped make the JMA partnership a reality.
“I knew it was important for them to have hands-on application rather than sitting in a lecture or simply regurgitating what I was teaching them,” said Viscarra.
Previous classes came up with the idea to host an anti-bullying program in local schools. This semester was the first time a GC class partnered with JMA to run the program. Every month, GC students worked in small groups hosting various team- building activities afterschool. Activities ranged from charades to relay races to sports like baseball.
“It’s worked because the students in my class aren’t talking down to them,” said Viscarra. “They are learning the best way to approach situations like these, which is to interact with them, talk to them—not at them. It’s also been beneficial because my students choose which activities to do, which gives them a chance to see what team building exercises will work for this age range.”
Lower School Assistant Courtney Hitchcock says she sees how JMA students react to the time Viscarra’s students spend with them.
“It is a joy to walk down the halls and see the excitement of the children as these college students invest time into them,” said Hitchcock.
The goal of the project is to lessen the chances of bullying in school, while also building a peer culture where bullying is simply not acceptable. In total, Georgia College students mentored close to 80 JMA students through the program. Aubrey Coker, first-year pre-nursing major, says this was her first time being introduced to subject such as societal influences on bullying.
“The class and experience working with the students has made me so much more aware of the influences that go into the act of bullying,” said Coker. “Before this class, I didn’t have much exposure to the subject.”
In the future, Viscarra says she hopes to add more activities and eventually partner with other local schools to implement the after school program.
“We’ll have to take baby steps, but this has been a great experience that could be beneficial for other schools.”