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Moved to action
Program brings bullying awareness to Milan

Mary Mattingly

Milan High School students spent a good part of their school day last week thinking about labels and stereotypes, how they treat others and how they want to be treated, and how they can help others who may be hurting. Perhaps others would say it was putting into practice The Golden Rule. It was part of a week-long leadership program called Moved2Stand, an interactive training program of Nashville STARS (Students Taking A Right Stand) that challenges students to examine their attitudes toward bullying. This one-day youth summit creates empathy and helps young leaders understand how bullying impacts school climate and communities. Move2Stand aims to empower students to stand up to bullying.

Milan students role play about bullyingMARY MATTINGLY PHOTO
Milan students role play about bullying with Move2Stand presenter Eric Johnson.

At the end of last year, the Milan Community Schools Corporation was awarded a $100,000 social services grant thanks to Brenda Konradi, director of One Community, One Family. Part of it has been used to fund the Move2 Stand program, with trained professionals who engage the students to think about their actions, the consequences, and how to change the culture, their attitudes and behavior.

Earlier in the week, and working with the school counselors and administrators, the small group of professionals presented a 30-45 minute program to grades K-8 at both the elementary and middle school, pulling out about 180 students (3rd-8th) for further leadership training. The thinking is you’re never too young to learn how to treat others and how to be a leader. Freshmen through senior high students spent an entire day on bullying awareness and leadership skills. Even the Milan parents were invited to a two hour workshop on Wednesday night to help strengthen their families
(See accompanying story on page 7 of The Versailles Republican.)

“I’d say it was a life-changing event, a real eye-opener,” said 9th-12th grades Social Services Director Fran Moore who helped conduct some of the small groups. She is the coordinator of the new grant for the upper grade levels. “It was very emotional, very moving. I bet there wasn’t a dry eye among the high schoolers by the end of the day.” It usually got to that point in the afternoon in an interactive activity called “Crossing the Line.” The goal is to learn how they share both similar and different feelings or actions. It was gut-wrenching for some teens.

“At first I thought it was just another program, but it was really good and made me think. It showed people who you really are, and you see what goes on in other people’s lives. I had no idea. I learned from some, it is much harder than I thought,” said Jed Minnich, a junior at Milan. He admitted he choked up several times during the afternoon. He was so moved he helped mentor on Friday with similar sessions for the freshmen and sophomores. As one of the upperclassmen mentors told the younger students in a breakout session, “The more you put into this day, the more you get out of it. I promise!”

“It was so powerful, even transformational! I think it helped the class bond,” exclaimed Brenda Schwering, elementary school counselor. She is working with the new social services coordinator on this bullying and awareness program and sat in on the programs. Senior student Winona Hopson said the same. “It brought us all together as a class,” she said afterward. “I was so moved. I didn’t know there was so much bullying in our school. It made me put myself in someone else’s shoes.” At the end of the day, one introverted student who did not want to participate in a “feeling” type activity, shook off her nerves and addressed all 200 students. Schwering summarized what she said: “ ‘I have to tell all of you that you helped me today. You made me feel better, and I feel more accepted than I ever have before.’ And several came up to hug her. It was so powerful.”

Milan is no different than other schools when it comes to bullying, the counselors point out. “It’s not that we have a bullying issue. It’s just fortunate that we can bring in this excellent national program. It’s helping bring out the best in our kids,” Schwering said. In today’s world, public schools are offering much more than just teaching the three R’s. This grant allows the specialized staff to focus time on helping empower students to stand up for themselves and for others who might be victims. The program defines bullying, and it goes way beyond teasing. Bullying is about power and control, and is intended to hurt, harm or humiliate, physically or emotionally, another person, and it is often repeated behavior. It can be at school, in the community or online.

Bullying circle
During a breakout group session Friday, about 25 freshmen and sophomores gathered in what was called a “bullying circle” in the hallway. The program director, Amy Lazarov of Nashville, told them to stand by marked areas if they were victims of bullying, bullies, defenders, etc. Most of them ended near the defender area. One teenager though was willing to admit her mistakes, and stood closer to the bully section. She publicly told her peers she was sorry for being mean.

Another boy moved to the victim area, and shared his feelings. When asked what he needed from his classmates, he replied, “Be nice to everyone and don’t put people in certain positions. Don’t go behind someone’s back.” Another boy, who stood near the defender position, admitted why he looks the other way when bullying occurs: “I don’t want to get into it. I don’t like drama or to cause drama.” The adult program leader reiterated it doesn’t take much to be kind to your fellow human beings, maybe just a hello in the hall or a smile at lunch. Or if you see the person is not treated right, let them know you can listen. Work to create a positive change, the leader advised. Another high school session was about who, what, when and where such acts occur. The teens brainstormed and agreed it happens to rich kids, kids without money, kids who look different, and at lunch, the gym, practice, or in front of friends. Stephanie Schwing-Stamper, the new elementary and middle school social services coordinator, said, “The old adage ‘sticks and stone will break my bones but words will never hurt me’ is a lie. We know from research that verbal conflict and putdowns can lead to a lot of harm. Words do hurt.”

Providing these social awareness programs can affect more than a student’s emotional well-being, but ultimately academics. “Education is everything, and we hear that all the time, but as the presenter said, 160,000 students skip school on a daily basis because of bullying. Those who are putting students down are robbing them of an education and it’s all of our personal responsibility because they all deserve an education,” Stamper commented. The next step is for the administrators and counselors to meet and plan further ways to enhance and maintain the message of acceptance and empowering students. “As a corporation, we are helping kids learn to value and respect themselves and others. As Paul Ketcham, our superintendent, says, ‘At Milan, We Lead,’ and this is one way we are showing it,” Schwering said.

Local Bulletin Board

August 29
Public meeting to discuss bovine TB

Cattle owners in Southeastern Indiana are invited to attend a public meeting on Monday, August 29, about the current bovine tuberculosis (TB) situation in the region. During the meeting, staff from the Indiana State Board of Animal Health (BOAH) will explain plans for expanded disease surveillance in area cattle after the discovery of TB in a wild, white-tailed deer. Representatives with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will also speak to the impact on the upcoming fall deer-hunting season. For time and details read page 3 of The Versailles Republican.

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