Robyn Shank was headed up the ladder on her career path and nothing would have stopped her except for a terrible tragedy.
Raised in E. Texas, she had traveled the world as an Army counterintelligence officer. Her job was to “make sure that critical intelligence was protected.” When her daughter Katelin was born she found that being a counterintelligence officer, a soldier, and a mom, didn’t work, and left the army.
She began years of education, earning a B.S. in psychology, a K-5 teaching certificate, and two masters degrees.
“I got my first degree in psychology. I was fascinated how the brain records, retrieves, gets blips in it and can fix itself,” she recalled. A petite and stylish woman, she speaks rapidly, with a seemingly perfect recall of the past two decades.
Shank had all the credentials to become a principal, and was working with teachers for Grand Junction’s School District 51.
But on March 24, 2015, Caitlyn Haynes, a student at Montrose High School, took her own life. A year later, her mother, Maya Haynes, approached Shank to become the executive director of her anti-bullying non-profit.
“We need someone who knows school systems,” Haynes said, “who knows the language, who knows what bullying is, how to prevent it, how to respond to it. Would you be willing to take the position?” Seeing a brand new challenge, Shank didn’t hesitate to accept. “I didn’t know about non-profits,” Shank said, “I didn’t know what an executive director did. But I care about and love kids.”
She knew about building empathy with students. “I spent a lot of time with teachers, helping them build empathy for some of the kids, build relationships with some of the kids, and put classroom management into place. Because you can’t teach the academics until you have a safe, predictable, relationship-building classroom.”
“Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.” – stopbullying.gov
The organization is called “PEER Kindness”, a name that is intended to be positive, encouraging, empathetic and respectful. Its mission statement is to reduce bullying in the community.
Gone are the days when bullies were merely suspended for a few days, and expected to no longer be bullies when they returned to school. “We have to work with the kids to not be victims, to find their voice, to not be passive witnesses but be ‘upstanders’. And we have to work with the children who are showing bully-like tendencies.”
PEER Kindness works with community organizations that teach equine horse therapy and martial arts.
Shank began as executive director in Jan. 2017. With the receipt of a $340,000 Bully Prevention grant from the state they were off and running. The grant provided training and an evidence-based curriculum for every K-5 teacher, counselor and principal. Last year Shank wrote a grant to include the secondary schools.
Shank says that they are working hard to come up with their first new program through PEER Kindness. “We know to have real change the kids have to be a part of it. We’re calling it “Align with Kind.” We’re asking kids to come to the table and be their own agent of social change. We’re asking what it’s going to take to treat each other the right way.”
The following video was made about a girl who was bullied and survived. For more information, please visit peerkindness.net