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This American Life, the public radio show that reaches more than 2 million listeners, recently rebroadcast a show focusing on the lives of students in middle School.

The entire show is worth listening too (again), but Act Six, the last segment, is particularly important for harnessing the power of peer influence for positive change. They tell the story of a particular middle school student who had a very challenging home situation, which led to negative behaviors in school and poor relationships with his peers. His teacher, Shannon Grande, spoke with some of the more influential students in the school, explaining the student’s home situation and how it related to his behavior.  After that, the students changed their interactions with him.

Shannon Grande

The students say, “Well, you’ve told us you’re working on this. What are you going to do differently now?” And then he’d try to explain, “Well, I’m trying to take deep breaths. I’m trying to journal when I’m getting angry.” And he’d come up with whatever solutions he was trying to do.

But a lot of times even, it wasn’t about the solution. The peer pressure itself, and the feeling like– he had come in, and he’s making these general statements like “everybody’s against me.” And then he’s starting to feel like, OK, maybe everybody isn’t against me. Maybe they are just frustrated with this behavior that I’m doing that I could be doing better. And we started to see that impact of peer pressure.

Ira Glass

Well, it’s like you took the entire machinery of middle school dynamics, and you’re harnessing it to help this kid.

Shannon Grande

Exactly.

This is a powerful lesson, not just for those particular students, but for everyone working with this age group. Middle school is an incredibly challenging time, kids are undergoing massive changes. Oftentimes the default coping mechanism is to lash out, bully, or exhibit other negative behaviors.

But, there is also the opportunity to harness ‘the machinery of middle school dynamics’ for positive change. Just like Shannon Grande did with her students, and just like we do with Career & College Clubs.

The Career & College Clubs model is focused on peer learning, and mobilizing the power of peer influence to create a culture of success in our schools. We’ve found that when middle school students are provided the freedom to explore their interests, a framework to guide them down the path, and the knowledge and skills to make good decision, the results are truly remarkable.

Episode 449: Middle School of This American Life can be found here.

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