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posted: 10/29/2013 5:30 AM

Dist. 300 student program aims to stop bullying

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In an effort to make good on its pledge to focus on bullying prevention, Community Unit District 300 has deployed 120 students in three schools to help stop bullying among their peers.

The Carpentersville-based school district is involved with Safe School Ambassador Student Program, which recruits "socially influential" students who have the power to speak out against bullying and change the way their fellow students treat each other.

School officials and some of the ambassadors presented the merits of the program to the school board Monday night. The better the school environment, the better students will do in school, they said, and teachers can focus more on instruction and less on refereeing student disputes.

"We can check the weapons at the door, but we can't necessarily check the students' social, emotional states," Associate Superintendent Sarah Kedroski said. "They will still pass through the school doors, bringing with them often attitudes, prejudices and beliefs that can lead to conflict and mistreatment on campus."

The district piloted the program this school year at Carpentersville Middle, Lakewood and Westfield Community schools.

As part of the program, students learn communication and intervention skills to better speak up, take action and diffuse potential altercations when they see their friends and classmates bully others. The district has also called on the ambassadors to report violence, cyberbullying, traditional bullying and other forms of mistreatment.

These students have the ability to recognize what goes on within school walls, while parents are more likely to focus on fights, drugs, gangs and weapons. Parents won't necessarily see the trash talking, the gossiping or kids getting stuffed into lockers, Kedroski said.

The ambassadors get structure and support from regularly scheduled family group meetings that involve seven to 10 other ambassadors and one or two adults. The groups meet to discuss their interventions, practice their skills and for the students to get support for what they've done.

It cost $10,000 per school to participate, and the district was able to add a third school thanks to a $10,000 private donation, District Spokeswoman Allison Strupeck said.

So far, the results are positive.

One poll said the climate at Carpentersville Middle School has improved 78 percent since it started the Safe School Ambassador Program. Another poll from the same school shows fights are down between 59 and 70 percent.

Tre Burnett, 13, an eighth-grade ambassador at Carpentersville Middle School, said he stopped two students from fighting Monday by reasoning with the would-be participants -- a tactic he said he learned in the program.

"Before SSA, I was usually the bystander; I was just standing by and just watching as the target got bullied," Burnett said. "But after I got the training in the SSA, now I am the one that helps and stands up for the party."

The district will consider expanding the program to other schools, based on the data collected from the program this school year, said Gary Chester, the district's safety officer. That decision will likely come at the end of the year, he added.

Meanwhile, district officials also are doing their part to stop bullying.

Three years ago, the district pulled together a committee of parents, administrators, teachers and psychologists to define bullying and come up with an intervention process that includes multiple steps, Chester said.

Last school year, one student was expelled for bullying, Chester said.

"It's not as prevalent as you seem to think, but we take it very seriously," Chester said.

District 300 students who are being bullied or know someone being bullied can call the district's safe school tip line at (847) 551-8477, report it on the district's website or on its smartphone app.

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