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Local students participate in anti-bullying training
tj williams antibullying Tweb
Jackson Elementary student TJ Williams participates in a bullying awareness activity that asked a student to carry around a book bag filled with bricks. The bricks represented the weight a bullied student feels they have to carry on their shoulders by being excluded and called hurtful names.

Third, fourth and fifth graders from Jackson, Pine Tree Hill (PTH) and Camden Elementary Schools participated in anti-bullying training last week. The group Community Matters from California sent training representatives to PTH, Wateree and Lugoff Elementary Schools and Camden and Lugoff Middle Schools to share the evidence-based program with designated "safe school ambassadors."

Kershaw County School District Project Director Kevin Rhodes explained the program was designed to empower kids with communication skills, interpersonal skills and positive attitudes and behaviors to combat bullying, negativity and violence they might encounter in school.

The training is part of the Elementary School Counseling Grant, also known as the Compass Grant, a school-based grant targeted toward schools that needed bully-intervention training. The training offered many interactive activities for students. Most activities focused on self-awareness and on recognizing actions have consequences. For example, one activity had students examine the effects of being excluded and how it feels to them and how it might feel to others.

The training asked students to share their own experiences of being bullied and to talk about them with their peers. An outcome of this open discussion was the students realized their experiences were often shared by others and they were not alone. Realizing the shared element of the negative experience helps remove the stigma for them.

The students selected to be ambassadors were nominated by their principals for demonstrating qualities of leadership while they also looked for students who were part of diverse social circles.

The grant also provides for school based social workers and guidance counselors to work with students. Susan Lowder is one of the social workers and said that from her work so far in Kershaw County schools, "It is evident that social workers are needed."

Lowder explained she had already personally experienced a positive outcome from working with one student and the student’s family.

"The parent decided to get her GED, she started volunteering, she has a whole different attitude, for the better, now. That positive change positively impacted the student, too," she said.

Rhodes stated the presence of social workers in schools is "a huge blessing to the district. It’s been many years since we’ve had social workers and it’s really helping." Rhodes noted bullying is a hot topic right now and their approach is to encourage students to recognize the behavior and stop it if they are able to.

"We have a no bully campaign (that utilizes) videos, posters and training," Rhodes said. "This ties in directly with the work we were doing with the Safe Schools campaign."

Though the funding for the Safe Schools is coming to an end, the Compass Grant picks up right where that left off, Rhodes said.

Annette Schyadre of Community Matters worked with the group at PTH. She described the program as a means of "flushing out students’ various experiences with mistreatment and bullying.

"We are trying to help them reflect on a time they were involved in the bullying process and how they reacted," she said.

Schyadre said the training teaches students through role play and reflection ways to react to bullying.

"We want them to report it to an adult," she said.

All the activities and information shared during training is recorded, Schyadre said, and analyzed in an effort to secure funding for future similar endeavors. She explained the data shows intervention efforts directly improve attendance records.

We see less missed days, less office referrals, suspension and detention offenses decrease as a result," she said.

She also noted the training is just as beneficial for teachers as it is for students.

"It brings teacher awareness. It’s like a light is switched on and teachers are reminded why they are so important to the kids’ safety," she said.

Rhodes said a proactive approach such as this is one can change Kershaw County schools for the better.

"I can’t boast more about a program," he said. "This really makes a difference. We’ve got the right kids here."