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Students prevent bullying through campaign

Alder Creek Middle School officially became the first school in Oregon to receive a No Place For Hate designation by the Anti-Defamation League after a ceremony on Friday afternoon.

by: PHOTO BY: COREY BUCHANAN - Fellow students applaud as Berkeley Eisele and Janeth Cuellar carry in Alder Creek Middle Schools new 'No Place for Hate' banner.The designation for the school located just east of Milwaukie city limits provides evidence that ACMS students and staff have worked diligently to nurture a bully-free environment this year.

by: PHOTO BY: COREY BUCHANAN - Alder Creek Middle School student Beatrice Degraw reads an essay for classmate Audra Erickson, who won a prize for the artwork she's holding.“We really are trying to bring this issue to the forefront. We’re invested in whole child development,” Dean of Students Holly Starkey said.

The ceremony included a random acts of kindness raffle, the presentation of student artwork of two guys holding hands, which will be placed in a display case at the school, as well as a performance of “We Are the World” by the school choir.

Finally, No Place For Hate Pacific Northwest Director Hillary Bernstein cemented the school’s designation and presented a banner, providing students an everyday reminder of their important mission.

“Every day you walk past that banner, you should think about what you’re going to do to stand up for each other,” she said.

To build the student-led initiative, the school, led by Starkey, created a 15-student positive action committee.

“When you think about anti-bullying programs, you think of teacher-driven lessons,” Starkey said. “We’re bigger on student involvement. We’ve tried to foster student voices, and I think the administration has seen that as effective.”

ACMS student Esmeralda Chavira said she wanted to be in the PAC “because I wanted to help our school have a better place for everyone to be comfortable,” she said.

Starkey has seen PAC members’ confidence grow since the initiative began.

“The kids now feel comfortable talking to me about problems that go on,” Starkey said. “The program helps them discover the gifts they have.”

Though the creation of the PAC helped, the school had to lead three anti-bullying activities and develop a schoolwide pledge to receive the designation.

Led by students, Alder Creek had a no name-calling week and a random act of kindness week. The students also attended an assembly presented by an anti-bullying organization, a schoolwide field trip to see the movie “Bully,” and Rex Putnam High School performed a play about bullying.

“Those were amazing things,” Starkey said.

Starkey found out about the Anti-Defamation League when she attended a Safe and Civil Schools National Conference.

“They talked about anti-bullying, brought up the No Place For Hate campaign, and I said ‘that is exactly what we’re looking for.’”

The campaign includes a bevy of participants on the East Coast, and some in the Midwest and California. In fact, No Place for Hate has 20 offices around the nation.

However, before Friday, no school in Oregon had received the designation.

“The initiative is just getting started in the Pacific Northwest. It’s wonderful that they stepped up and wanted to join,” Bernstein said.

More progress expected

Starkey said other schools haven’t tried to join the cause because administrators simply don’t know about it.

“I hope that our designation will raise awareness,” she said.

Bernstein added: “It takes a while for all of the pieces to get in place.”

Starkey said bullying happens at every school, and Alder Creek is no different.

“I think just like in life, things are gonna happen, but I do believe we can have an environment for kids to stand up against it.”

Starkey thinks bullying prevention is especially important in middle schools.

“I do know at this age, kids are navigating relationships,” she said.

Chavira points out a couple awful consequences of bullying: “People committing suicide, and kids get really hurt when people bully them.”

Chavira, who hates to see others bullied, said the school has made strides, but ACMS isn’t completely bully-free.

“I believe it’s better, but right now we are still in progress,” she said. “It made me feel really bad because I’ve been bullied, and it’s not a good feeling.”

Starkey said it takes longer than a couple of years to achieve considerable improvements, but she is hopeful for next year.

“Next year, we’re going to kickoff that much stronger. That’s exciting.”

Overall, Starkey is pleased with the positive environment the school is hatching.

“We’re slowly creating a culture. Diversity is celebrated. It’s about them growing as people.”