High School Teacher Colin Horak's Innovative Anti-Bullying Campaign
Colin Horak is a veteran high school teacher. In his current role as a teacher at Franklin Pierce High School, he helped students to develop an anti-bullying program called Project Unite. The project has been quite successful, and Mr. Horak has been invited to speak at Microsoft's 2011 U.S. Innovative Education Forum. In this interview, we talk to Mr. Horak about Project Unite's origins and impact.
Learn.org: What is your professional background? How long have you been teaching?
Colin Horak: I've been a high school teacher for 13 years. I've also coached baseball, football and golf. I routinely incorporate coaching principles and strategies in the classroom to elevate student performance. Life is often like a game. Therefore, I try to teach my students the fundamental skills necessary to be successful in the game of life.
DD.org: Please describe how your anti-bullying initiative, Project Unite, got started.
CH: At the beginning of the school year, Franklin Pierce High School had a problem within the freshman class with fighting, bullying and general disrespectful and immature behavior. The ninth grade class was getting a negative reputation with the upperclassmen. Also, after a month of learning basic leadership philosophies, principles and vocabulary, my ninth grade leadership class was thirsty for a mission or purpose. Then, one fateful day, a brilliant young man shared his vision for Project Unite, and the rest is history.
DD.org: What role did students play in the project's inception?
CH: Our Freshman Class President, Antonio 'Tono' Sablan, created and shared a PowerPoint outlining Project Unite and how it could potentially improve the negative reputation of the freshman class and unite the students at Franklin Pierce. After viewing and discussing the potential benefits of the project, my leadership class was enthusiastically on board with the new mission.
DD.org: What does Project Unite do?
CH: The purpose of the project is to unite all students regardless of their race, creed, sexuality and/or other perceived differences. Project Unite has tackled the difficult issues of bullying, disrespectful or immature behavior, racism and homophobia. In summary, we want people to feel a part of one race...the human race.
DD.org: How have you incorporated technology into this initiative?
CH: We used Microsoft PowerPoint as a presentation vehicle in classrooms. Digital photos depicting the incredible diversity of our student body were taken by my leadership kids. These photos were incorporated into two media presentations using Microsoft Photostory. One of the photostories was shown in front of the entire student body during our MLK Assembly. My ninth grade leadership students created and produced two Project Unite episodes as public service videos. The episodes were shown in all ninth grade English classes and informed kids about appropriate behavior on campus and the negative consequences of immaturity. A powerful discussion followed the viewing sessions. Lastly, we used Facebook as a communication and recruiting tool for the project.
DD.org: You will be discussing Project Unite at Microsoft's 2011 U.S. Innovative Education Forum. What message do you intend to relay while at the Forum?
CH: We want people to realize they have the power and voice to significantly improve the world. We want to encourage proactive behavior in individuals. People need to stop being bystanders and get involved in a cause. Life is too short to watch from the sidelines.
DD.org: Are you encouraged by the changes you've seen as a result of Project Unite?
CH: Project Unite has motivated and inspired kids to feel confident expressing their voices for social change. Ninth graders have behaved in a more mature and respectful manner since the inception of the project. Additionally, Project Unite inspired my second semester leadership students to develop and implement a similar project called, 'Speak Out,' that has done some amazing things in the school as well. Overall, the ninth grade class at FPHS has transformed their reputation from being negative and immature to being the most proactive and respected class on campus!
DD.org: Do you have any advice for teachers or students who might want to start a similar initiative at their school?
CH: Obviously, you have to believe in your students. Show them love and compassion and be an inspirational and honest leader. Identify the strengths of each individual and nurture and exploit that strength for the overall mission. Create an authentic collaborative and team atmosphere. Be the leader who allows kids to see 'the big picture' and the 'real world' applications of classroom knowledge. Be a life coach for your fellow human beings...your students.
DD.org: Finally, if there's anything else you'd like to share with our readers about Project Unite or the Innovative Education Forum, please feel free to do so.
CH: Project Unite has done more than merely improve the behavior of kids on campus and transform the reputation of the freshman class. The project was instrumental in teaching kids in my leadership class about the potential power united groups of human beings can have in making the world a better place for everyone.