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The bully stops here

Program aims to teach students how to deal with difficult social situation

Posted: January 22, 2009 8:20 p.m.
Updated: January 23, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Students from the Valley View Elementary School act out different scenarios about bullying through the Safe School Ambassador program Thursday morning.

Valley View Elementary School students put their regular lessons on hold Wednesday and Thursday to take part in training designed to stop bullying and promote tolerance.

Training of 34 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at the Canyon Country campus was the Santa Clarita Valley's first elementary school to take part in the national Safe School Ambassadors program, thanks to a $1,500 grant awarded in 2008.

The William S. Hart Union High School District implemented the program at nine of district's junior high and high schools roughly three years ago. Between 30 and 60 Hart district students at each campus are designated "ambassadors."

The program focuses on teaching "socially influential" students to look for instances of bullying and intervene when safe and appropriate.

"When we're not around, things can really go down and that's when we need them to step up," said Assistant Principal Josh Randall.

Teachers recommended the 34 Valley View students because of their ability to influence their peers and social groups.

"They can just blend in with their crowd," Randall said.

School officials consider Safe School's proactive approach beneficial as 160,000 students across the country admit they are afraid to come to school because of bullying and mistreatment by peers, said Kathleen Zarlenga, program administrator at Valley View.

The two-day activities and lessons resonated with 10-year-old Isabelle Guerrero, of Canyon Country.
"I learned how to deal with situations like how to help people to not be afraid and stand up for people who have been bullied," Guerrero said Thursday.

Guerrero looks forward to her role as an ambassador for her school. "I like it because I get to help other people and help them feel safe," the fifth-grader said.

The training focused on targeting bullying, unwanted physical contact, incidents of exclusion and putdowns.
Community Matters trainer Shay Olivarria used interactive activities to illustrate instances of bullying and how to remedy situations.

For one activity, small groups of students switched between the roles of ambassadors, targets of bullying, aggressors and bystanders. One play showed students excluding a peer from a game of kickball while another group of students showed peers stealing a pencil.

In every instance, the "ambassador" stepped in to confront the misbehaving students. In instances that involved pushing and fighting, facilitators teach students to notify an adult instead of intervening themselves.

A major theme of training keeps the ambassadors anonymous to prevent peers from labelling them as "tattle-tales" or "snitches."

Safe School came to the Santa Clarita Valley a few years ago when 30 or 40 students at Golden Valley High School underwent training.

"We liked the results, so we purchased the rights to do our own training," said Greg Lee, diversity coordinator for the district.

The Hart district is one of a handful of schools in the state that provides its own Safe School Ambassador training, he said. In many instances, adults are much more hesitant to talk about bullying.

"The students are very, very capable and ready to have these types of discussions," Lee said.

Once trained, students maintain "action logs" that keep track of instances of bullying, racism and inappropriate physical contact on their campuses.

The students then report their findings to their appointed small groups, known as a "family group," which are made up of other ambassadors and teachers and school staff designated as facilitators.


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