Forest Grove middle school students learn ways to gain power safely

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: CHASE ALLGOOD - NAMS eighth-grade leadership team members speak about what the two weeks of anti-bullying training has meant to them and the student body. We came together, doing our best to Black Out Bullying. We learned that everyone is special in their own way, said Hannah Berdahl (center). I feel that having the students wear black really helped equalized everyones power, said Luis Gonzalez (left). And Jasmine Johnson (right) added that, All the quotes on the bulletin board, and the videos showing us how to be brave really helped everyone.On their way to special morning assemblies last Friday, black-clad Neil Armstrong Middle School students filed past a bulletin board of hand-lettered signs.

“Knowing what’s right doesn’t mean much unless you do what’s right,” proclaimed one.

“I never set out to be weird. It was always other people who called me weird,” observed another.

“All I can do is be me. Whatever that is,” acknowledged a third.

The assemblies were the culmination of a two-week “Black Out Bullying” campaign organized by the school’s counseling department and the 27-member eighth-grade student leadership team under the direction of advisor Malynda Wenzl.

Kicking off assembly activities that included a dress-a-superhero contest, Principal Brandon Hundley told cheering students, “We don’t accept or tolerate bullying.”

School counselor and Black Out Bullying curriculum author Linda Henderson said that in the last two weeks, seventh- and eighth-graders spent time in daily advisory classes watching videos and viewing written material on their iPads, interacting with each other and participating in teacher-led discussions.

“The easy part is getting these kids to empathize with fellow students who are being intimidated physically, socially or emotionally — they know what’s good behavior and bad behavior,” Henderson said. “The hard part is to get them to do something about it.”

During the 35-minute classes, students were asked to share times when they felt they had been bullied or seen others bullied, and discuss what they could do to help stop bullying.

“Our teachers did an awesome job of working with the kids,” said Henderson, the only counselor at the 850-student school. “They’re highly trained in math or the humanities, but in many cases aren’t prepared to ‘counsel,’ deal with incidents of bullying, or the effect it has on students.”

Henderson added that it’s all about power. “Culturally, power is obtained through intimidation or domination toward someone who is perceived as being weaker. What we try to do is show the kids how to get power without bullying — to give them a better understanding of what it takes to build and maintain relationships, and how to be a good friend.

“One of the better ways to help reduce incidents of bullying is to get the students involved in activities such as the traveling choir, music and other electives,” Henderson continued. “But what’s really needed is for parents to be involved, and to help get their kids involved. As parents, they can constantly be planting seeds about how to use power for good.”

School officials plan to follow up the anti-bullying theme after the winter and New Year’s breaks with a two-week, digital-citizenship program designed to teach students how to safely manage their lives with social media.

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