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Orangeburg Consolidated School District Three is taking a proactive approach in tackling the issue of bullying in the schools by introducing the Safe School Ambassadors Program to train selected student leaders how to identify bullying and to “intervene non-violently.”

 “We have a zero tolerance for bullying,” said Dr. Trina Gordon, director/principal of Elloree Middle School.

“Bullying is becoming a problem, but we haven’t had a lot of issues with it. We’re trying to be proactive,” she said.

Lately, “some concerns have been developing from parents whose children are being bullied via text messaging — outside of the school campus and after school hours,” Gordon said.

She said it seems to be part of a trend among some teens to use mobile devices and social media to convey threats or other bullying tactics.

The use of text messaging, Facebook and the like to bully others is broadly referred to as “cyberbullying.”

And while cyberbullying doesn’t take place during school hours or on campus, the effects of the threats spill over into the classroom, Gordon noted.

“It flows over from outside and starts to have an impact on students once they enter the school,” she said.

“Students must feel safe when they’re entering the schools, and students perform better when they’re feeling safe,” Gordon said.

Last week, selected students from several OCSD 3 schools took part in a training made possible through a federal grant funded through the U.S. Department of Education’s Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Program.

Aisha Graham, project director and the district’s lead social worker, said 39 elementary school students took part in the two-day training Feb. 26-27. Thirty additional students from Elloree Middle, Holly Hill-Roberts Middle and Elloree Elementary participated in a two-day training Feb. 28 and March 1 at Elloree Middle, she said.

The training, known as the Safe School Ambassadors Program, is part of the Community Matters initiative.

By becoming Safe School Ambassadors, students learn about “what to look for” when identifying a bullying situation and how to “intervene non-violently,” Graham said.

John Linney, senior trainer for Community Matters, based in Santa Rosa, Calif., facilitated the training over the four-day period.

“You’re all here not by accident — you’re seen as a leader. You’re all leaders in your schools,” Linney told the students in one of the training sessions.

He used a combination of interactive instruction such as group activities, role playing, writing prompts, videos and group dialogue to teach students how to spot the five types of mistreatment: exclusion, put-downs, intimidation, unwanted physical contact and acts against campus.

Linney also discussed the three main parties involved in mistreatment: the aggressors, the targets and the bystanders.

Most people usually end up as bystanders and are faced with three options: to join in the mistreatment, to ignore the situation, or to tell an adult about the mistreatment, he said.

“Being an ambassador takes courage,” Linney said.

He said the four key duties of an ambassador are: to notice the mistreatment that’s taking place, to think about what’s going on, to act in a non-violent and caring manner and to follow through by talking with an adult about the mistreatment.

In one of the group activities, Linney used masking tape to create a line on the floor from one side of the room to the other. Students and staff stood on one side of the line. He then asked a question and asked anyone who could answer “yes” to step across the line and face their remaining peers.

Students and staff were asked to respond to the statements Linney made by simply crossing over the line.

Some of the statements he made during the exercise were:

* “I have been teased or insulted because of my culture, background, heritage, or race.”

* “I have heard a hurtful rumor at my school.”

* “I have been called ... hurtful names based on my gender or because I am female.”

* “I have been called a wimp or a wuss, or other hurtful names based on my gender or because I am male.”

* “I have left out, ignored, excluded, or ditched someone else.”

* “I have bullied or intimidated another person at my school.”

 After the “Crossing the Line” exercise, Linney asked students to journal about it. He said what they wrote was not for the purpose of being shared with anyone else but just to express their feelings about the exercise.

“I’m looking forward to making my school a better place,” said Jada Simmons, an Elloree Middle School seventh-grader.

Simmons said the Safe School Ambassador training is “good for us because we will be helping out more.”

She noted that it’s important to “be honest and cooperate with others.”

Jayshawn Davis, a Holly Hill-Roberts Middle School seventh-grader, said he was confident that positive student leaders will have a great impact on the student body. He said the training helped him and other students determine how to encourage their peers “to not fight” and to let them know that “fighting isn’t worth the consequences; it’s not worth getting suspended. Take time to cool off and think it over,” Davis said.

Elloree Elementary School Principal Sharon Wilson said bullying “isn’t a major issue” on campus but school leaders are “always looking for innovative ways to help students grow and develop.”

“We’re looking forward to reaping the benefits of the training,” she said. “The training is very effective in that it teaches kids strategies in how to treat issues.”

Graham said the tools the students gained during the training will likely be “skills they’ll have long after they leave school.”

Contact the writer: marfawose@aol.com.

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