CAMP EDWARDS, Mass. – More than 150 sixth grade students from South Hadley took part in an Anti-Bullying program designed to help build teamwork and mutual respect among classmates April 29, here.
The program is designed to get students together in a different environment, said 2nd Lt. Danielle M. Sullivan, Counterdrug Operations Officer MA National Guard. Getting them to see each other in a new way is important.
A recent study conducted by the Massachusetts Public Health Department has found that one out of every four middle school students is a victim of bullying at school.
In South Hadley last year there was a well publicized incident, caused by bullying, Sullivan said. So the National Guard thought it would be a great school system to get involved with and hopefully evoke a change.
The Guard has a long standing history of working with the youth of Massachusetts through the Drug Demand Reduction program.
“The DDR has been around for a long time,” said Sullivan. “We typically focus on drug education… This is the first time we’re doing something focusing on bullying, but we have been working with youth for over 20 years.”
The program focuses on helping students become proficient in making decisions that would steer them away from drugs, alcohol and gangs.
“It’s the same skills you’re looking at, like resisting peer pressure and making positive healthy life choices,” said Sullivan. “These are the same things that the DDR program has taught all along for resisting drugs, so to translate that to bullying was easy for us. It just kind of made sense.”
The program the sixth graders are involved with ties in to their environmental awareness program and utilizes team building activities.
“One group will be on the obstacle course and the other will be doing the environment based classes, which ties into their curriculum,” Sullivan said. “It’s educational but also a great way to introduce them to the Guard and to Camp Edwards.”
The students were more than excited to test their balance and coordination skills on the course. Even if some of the tasks were daunting for a single sixth grader.
“Today we’re showing the students that by working together, the students can do just about anything,” said Sgt. Paul Parsons, Team Leader, 772nd Military Police. “Even if they think it’s too tough.”
“I think the obstacle course will be exciting for them. It’s a little more challenging (than what they are used to),” said Sullivan. “They’ll be able to work as a team and build some leadership skills.”
By incorporating physical activity and team work into the program, students who are usually shy are able to get more involved and help with completing the obstacles, said Parsons.
“We’re trying something new. It’s founded in a traditional program we have been using for years,” said Sullivan. “But it has been translated in a slightly more modern way to address the newer issue of bullying and cyber-bullying.”
With technology advancing as quickly as it is, cyber-bullying as well as bullying are happening in and out of school.
“Which I think goes hand in hand with some of the other issues like alcohol and peer pressure. So we’re taking this approach that we have had, and we’re applying it to a newer program,” said Sullivan.
Unbeknownst to the students, their fun day of learning about conserving energy and protecting endangered species should also help them to treat their classmates better.
“This is a great opportunity for both the guardsmen and students,” said Parsons. “It lets them see that we’re really here for our communities.”“We’re hoping it’s something that the kids enjoy,” said Sullivan. “That they learn something from and that they build some of these skills to be able to go back and be nicer to their classmates, and see them in a different way outside of school.”