Intermediate Education Center Principal Andrew Auer decided it's never too early to teach students about bullying and what to do when words really hurt:
Ask them to stop. Tell them to stop. Tell an adult.
"It's the AT&T method," he said. "It's all related to communication."
As part of a districtwide program, Auer brought in training specialist William Berrard to speak with each classroom in the school twice over the past two weeks, as well as role-play through various bullying scenarios.
Planning for the program began in the fall, and the first training session was completed at the middle school in December. The impact of bullying hit home at that school in May when several male students were suspended for passing along a sexually explicit video created on a cell phone.
"We're front-loading," Auer said. "Let's talk about this well before it gets to that point."
Bullying can be verbal, emotional, cyber and physical, Berrard told students during their first workshop last week, and it's much easier to say mean things about people than nice things.
As a complement to the lesson, the school also implemented its "Great Peace Challenge" during January to encourage students to practice being kind and polite. Students were asked to complete a list of 20 peaceful tasks by Feb. 1, such as making someone laugh, writing a thank-you card, and talking to someone they normally wouldn't. Students who complete the challenge will receive a dove to place on their locker with the word "Peacemaker."
"Character is what you do when no one's watching," Auer said. "We're really trying to tie the kindness aspect into this whole idea of preventing bullying."
During the second session, students learned how to stand up for themselves and how to turn to friends for help -- and not retaliating in the face of further bullying. Berrard challenged them to not be bystanders when they witness bullying, to become defenders and ask, then tell the bully to stop.
When all else fails, or if there's any danger of someone getting hurt, turn to an adult, Berrard told students.
"It's about giving them a comfort level to resolve the situation on their own or choose to do so with the help of an adult," Berrard said. "But make that choice. Don't just ignore it."
The Primary Education Center also is participating in the Great Peace Challenge, and Berrard hopes to take his training program there and to the high school, after some revamping, to make the material age appropriate.
Berrard received his qualifications to train from McGrath Training Systems Inc. based in California and is also an attorney representing the district.