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Bombers vs. bullying

Students and staff at Waubun schools dressed in blue and wore blue armbands last Friday, Nov. 30, to symbolize their pledge to "Stand Up to Bullies." Submitted Photo

Last spring, a pair of Waubun sixth graders made headlines for winning an online competition with their anti-bullying video.

This fall, Waubun is tackling the issue of bullying on a schoolwide basis, as students in each grade, 5-12, took part in an in-depth discussion of the issue on Wednesday, Nov. 28. Some teachers showed an anti-bullying video to spur the discussion.

Afterwards, many of the participants chose to sign a pledge to "Stand Up to Bullies."

As a symbol of their pledge, each student was given a blue wristband -- the color of which had dual significance, said school counselor Jill Baker.

"'Bomber blue' is our school color, and it is also the color of anti-bullying awareness," Baker said.

On Friday, Nov. 30, the students were asked to not only don their wristbands, but to wear blue clothing as well -- and they all posed for a photograph that symbolized their decision to "add their voices to the anti-bullying anthem," Baker said.

Last week's activities were not spurred by any particular incident or incidents of bullying at the school, Baker added, but rather a desire to prevent such incidents from occurring in the first place.

"The intent was preventative," she said.

Several sixth- and seventh-graders who volunteered to participate in a special training program this fall, Students Teaching Attitudes of Respect (STAR), decided that they wanted to take what they'd learned and help to implement it schoolwide.

"I thought it was important (to share the videos and information with other students) so they could learn how to deal with bullying too," said STAR team member Makena Spaeth, who is a sixth grader at Waubun this year.

Some of the information the STAR team members learned and wanted to share with their fellow students included "how to deal with bullies, and what to do when you're a bystander -- or a victim," said Spaeth's classmate and fellow STAR team member, Elizabeth Reich.

They also learned "how to stand up to them (bullies)," Spaeth added.

One of the more interesting things they learned, Reich noted, was that "there's a difference between how girls bully, and how boys bully."

They also learned that if you go along with what the bully wants, and don't stand up to them, "they get stronger," but if you side with the victim, the bully's stance is weakened, she added.

What they hoped to accomplish by bringing this information to their fellow students, Spaeth said, was to hopefully show the students what could be considered bullying, and what couldn't -- so that "maybe they'll think about it first before they try to bully someone," she added.

"I'm pretty sure that they all understood it (what bullying is), and that it's not very good for anyone," Reich said.

Though neither has personally witnessed any incidents of physical bullying, both of them said they had heard "name calling" -- and had seen some writing on the walls "saying a bunch of stuff," Spaeth said.

"It wasn't very pleasant (what the writing said)," Reich added. "A few of (the writings) had specific names on them."

What they and their fellow STAR team members are hoping to accomplish is to "make sure people are always aware of bullying (and why it's wrong) -- not just now, today," Spaeth said.

"Otherwise, maybe kids from the younger grades will come up here (next fall) and think maybe it's OK to bully someone," Reich said.

Baker said that the Nov. 28 discussions spurred some extremely thoughtful insights.

For instance, one sixth-grade student pointed out that "it's a risk for students to report bullying -- it can potentially make them a victim as well. But if five of them are willing to say something, the risk is smaller. I thought that was really insightful," Baker said.

Social studies teacher Casey Berntson said: "Watching the video depicting the different bulling scenarios in my class of 10th graders led to some very open and honest discussions on what bulling was and how students could learn to recognize it, and also stop it.

"All the students agreed that bullying happens, but what was interesting was when we talked about why people are afraid to speak out when they see it. Students who witness bullying often are afraid to face ridicule themselves if they intervene. However, after seeing the video and talking about it, many in the class realized that the risk of become a target was worth the reward of ending the abuse."

Ultimately, Baker said, the hope is that "this won't be a one-time thing, just for show -- but that it will lead to something meaningful and ongoing."

"We want to create a culture and an atmosphere of safety and kindness in our school," she added.

"One of the best things to come out of this was the frank and honest discussions in the classrooms (about) what can and can't be construed as bullying," said Waubun Principal Eric Martinez. "I thought the teachers did an excellent job, and that those students who were ready to receive the message -- they got it."

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454