The Safe School Ambassadors program is built on a solid foundation of research and has been refined through more than ten years of field experience with more than 70,000 Ambassadors in over 1500 schools, as of November 2017. Understanding some of the logic behind the model helps everyone involved in the program answer the inevitable questions posed by colleagues and parents. That understanding makes it easier to support and perpetuate the unique features that give the program its strength.
1) SSA is a student-centered program. Students see, hear, and know things adults don’t. They are everywhere mistreatment happens; adults aren’t. And students can intervene in ways adults can’t. Therefore, adults need to share power and decision-making with Ambassadors. For example: don’t just decide how you’ll recognize and appreciate them; find out from them what would be meaningful and appreciated and use that information in your decision-making. To the extent practical and age-appropriate, involve Ambassadors in running the program and Family Groups: taking attendance, conducting opening and check-in activities, tallying Action Logs and completing Summaries, planning all-Ambassador meetings, etc.
2) The focus of the program is on reducing incidents of peer mistreatment. This in turn leads to a decrease in discipline incidents (detentions, suspensions, etc.), and an improvement in school climate. Better school climate means increased attendance and improved academic performance. However, climate change takes time; most programs require three years of diligent implementation in order to become firmly ingrained in the school system (i.e., sustainable) and have the desired impact on the campus’ social norms.
3) SSA utilizes the bystanders. SSA is not a program to fix bullies or aggressors. It is not a program to give targets more tools to fend off or cope with the mistreatment they experience. It IS a program that harnesses the power of the bystanders, whose silence or acquiescence in the face of mistreatment “permits” it to happen. But SSA does not involve just any bystanders, nor does it try to directly reach all of the hundreds of bystanders at a given school. It carefully and precisely identifies, orients, selects and trains the socially influential “opinion leaders” of the school’s diverse groups and cliques.
4) Only certain bystanders are trained. All students do not have the “social capital” (stature and influence in the eyes of their peers) required to be effective Ambassadors. Studies have shown that just having empathy and skills is not enough for a student to speak up to stop mistreatment, or to do so effectively. Students with high social capital are more likely to USE their skills, and when they do they are more likely to be heeded. While all students can benefit from certain components of the SSA training – building relationships with peers in different social circles, understanding the extent and costs of the problem of mistreatment – only some have the courage and social capital to be effective Ambassadors.