Students aim to banish bullies
EDWARDS – Last school year, seventh-grader Christoph Niederhauser saw a group of girls arguing outside Berry Creek Middle School. Most boys would take one look at the feminine fray and head in the opposite direction, but fortified with the training to defuse such heated situations, Christoph mustered up courage rare in a young teenager and marched up to the gaggle. “The girls were going at it,” Christoph said. “It wasn’t going to get physical or anything, but the way they were taking dirt out on each other, it just wasn’t right.” He can’t even remember what the problem was, but by talking to the girls and getting them to talk to each other, he was able to resolve the problem and send the girls on their way happier than before, he said. Christoph, now in the eighth grade, owes his powers of mediation to the Safe School Ambassador Program, which teaches students how to deal with arguments, fights, exclusion, bullying and violence in school. The program is now in its second year at Berry Creek and a second batch of safety ambassadors were trained last week. “We want to really help the school, so nobody will be sent to the hospital in the next year,” said Israel Solis, a sixth-grader and new ambassador at Berry Creek. “We can make a big difference in schools everywhere.”
“A lot of parents are concerned about what schools do to prevent bullying,” Berry Creek Principal Robert Cuevas said. “Here, the kids were given the tools to prevent violence. They get to be a part of something that’s bigger than themselves.”Berry Creek is the only school in the Eagle County School District with this program. The 63 ambassadors speak English and Spanish and come from all three grades at the middle school. Teachers recommended a mix of students who have leadership skills and communicate well. “I’m an easy person to get along with, and Christoph is the same,” said second-year ambassador Amelia Rodriguez. “He sticks up for anybody, and he’s nice – too nice sometimes.”Teachers also chose some students who may not excel at school but could shine in a project like this, Cuevas said. “You would think the females would be into this, but the boys really enjoy doing it,” Cuevas said. Ambassadors keep a watchful eye out for how people behave around each other and keep logs about how they intervene to make the school more peaceful. If each of the ambassadors intervenes three times a week, Amelia said 14,330 conflicts could be avoided. The ambassadors also get together and talk about what techniques worked and which didn’t.”They’re out undercover agents helping to make the school a safer place,” said Berry Creek teacher Kim Heaton.
Berry Creek students and teachers both agreed last year was a paramount year for fights between girls, especially the seventh graders. “We had major attitude problems,” said Amelia, now in the eighth grade. “But the ambassadors have helped out, and there are hardly any fights this year.” But adolescent badgering continues. “The popular kids pick on the ‘low cards,'” Breissa Torres said. “We’re trying to stop kids who are calling names.”
The term “low card” came from an exercise the ambassadors did. Teachers taped one card from a standard deck on each ambassador’s back. The higher the card, the more popular the student was supposed to be, but the students with the lowest card values received negative treatment or were ignored altogether. The game was meant to teach kids how horrible it is to be unpopular but became a synonym for those belonging to the lower social strata instead. And for kids who are worried about tattling, there’s a Bully Box they can put notes in about bullying situations. “I was worried about tattling at first, but it’s better to do something about it then stay quiet,” Amelia said. Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 748-2927 or email@example.com. Vail Daily, Vail Colorado CO