If, as a 9-year-old, you had been shoved around, taunted, teased and isolated, you might not be eager to return to the scene of the trauma. But that’s just what Pioneer High School junior Shashank Chandru, now 16, is doing.
And, he’s taking his friends with him.
Chandru has formed a club at Pioneer called Tomorrow Together, whose main mission is to visit elementary schools and preach non-violence and anti-bullying to young students. The idea is that the elementary students will relate to high schoolers giving the message and be more likely to avoid engaging in bullying.
“After being born in Ann Arbor, then moving to India and living in India for five years, I moved back to Ann Arbor in the fourth grade and I went to Lawton Elementary, where I was the new kid, I didn’t know anyone,” Chandru says. “I definitely was singled out. I was bullied. I know first-hand how bad that can make a kid feel. I want to do something about that.”
So, where do you think Chandru is leading the Tomorrow Together club March 12 on their first trip to an elementary school? You guessed it. A fourth-grade class at Lawton Elementary.
“It’s kind of a coincidence, but I guess it’s kind of like fate,” he said. “But, this is not just about me. In fact, it’s not about me at all. It’s about the young kids, trying to keep them from acting out in a way that will hurt other kids, or from become victims themselves.”
Chandru first had the idea last summer, and he approached fellow Pioneer junior Aditya Vinukonda – who has known Chandru since those days in the fourth grade at Lawton Elementary – about helping form Tomorrow Together. Vinukonda was on board right away.
“I jumped on the opportunity,” Vinukonda said. “We were friends in Elementary School. I saw him go through what he went through. It wasn’t fun for him, but now he’s a popular kid at Pioneer; everyone likes him. I see this as a great chance to reach kids while they’re still forming.
“Fourth grade is a perfect age to reach them, and I think they will connect with us because, actually we are in their same generation. They might be more willing to listen to us rather than the message coming from an adult.”
Once the school year started, Chandru and Vinukonda went about finding a sponsor for Tomorrow Together. Science teacher Laurie Williams agreed to sponsor and allow her room (C121) to be used for meetings on Wednesday during lunch hour.
“The biggest challenge was finding members to be part of the club,” Chandru said. “Now we’ve got about 8 or 9 who come every week, and we get up to about 15 sometimes.”
Each week, club members prepare for their March 12 trip to Lawton Elementary. They work on an anti-bullying skit that they will perform for the young students, and they also are brainstorming on anti-bullying poster ideas.
“After the skit, we will break off with the kids and ask them who in the skit was doing the wrong thing, who did the right thing, and what could have happened differently,” Chandru said. “There also will be Oreos and candy. It’s important that we make it fun for the kids, because if it’s boring, they won’t listen, they won’t pay attention, and they won’t get the message.”
That message is important to Chandru, Vinukonda and the rest of the members of Tomorrow Together. The two leaders have some definite ideas about how bullying situations can be avoided or diffused.
“I would say to the kids that it’s never too late to try to talk it out, to try to stay calm in any situation,” said Vinukonda, who formerly was in the Engineering Club and Interact before concentrating on Tomorrow Together as an extracurricular activity. “Sometimes, the situation gets out of hand, then, yes, call a teacher or an adult, for sure. But, if you stay calm, and understand that bullying is a bad thing – even for the bully – then sometimes it can be resolved.
“Many times bullies have been bullied themselves and they’re just repeating behavior.”
Chandru has similar thoughts about bullying situations, and about the bullies themselves.
“Bullies sometimes are having some mental trouble, going through some things,” said Chandru, who is on the Pioneer swim team and is in the Robotics Club. “We just want to tell the kids to try to gather their thoughts. To think things through.
Vinukonda had perhaps the best thought of all.
“Being a kid is a time to smile,” he said. “Responsibilities and stress come later. There’s no reason for bullying to enter into a young kid’s life and take away that smile.”