Health foundation honors Safe School Ambassadors |

Health foundation honors Safe School Ambassadors

Each year some 160,000 students nationwide report staying home from school because they are afraid they’ll be picked on, teased, beaten up or otherwise harassed by fellow students.

But now there is a program aimed directly at minimizing the power of bullies in schools from Aspen to Rifle, and it involves training kids to deal with the problem themselves.

The Children’s Health Foundation will hold a private luncheon to honor more than 600 elementary, middle and senior high students from 14 area schools for their service in the Safe School Ambassadors Program.

The program, foundation Executive Director Mardell Burkholder said, is designed to train youngsters of all ages to be on the watch for instances of teasing, bullying, harassment “and other forms of mistreatment that often go unnoticed by adults.”

When they spot that kind of behavior, the “student ambassadors” are expected to intervene and put a stop to it, using the training they have received in two-day sessions to defuse the situation.

Burkholder, who was with Challenge Aspen until last year, said this week that the Children’s Health Foundation is working with a three-year grant from the Colorado Trust to implement the Safe School Ambassadors program, which the Community Matters organization of California created.

The program involves selecting students to participate, selecting a program adviser for each participating school, and training them, Children’s Health Foundation Program Director Allison Bartholomaus said.

That training, she said, involves instruction in how to deal with certain situations, whether on the playground, in the hallways or in a classroom.

Bartholomaus said the training focuses mostly on the kids, teaching them basic techniques such as distracting or reasoning with a bully; offering support to the one being bullied; getting help from an adult; engaging in a conversation to explore and balance the two sides of the situation; and simply listening to those involved.

“They do a lot of role-plays … little skits” during the training sessions, Bartholomaus said. “They really teach kids to do this in an indirect way, so it doesn’t come across as invasive.”

The program typically selects “peer leaders,” Bartholomaus said, on the theory that the student body generally respects such students. The program is selecting next year’s crop of trainees now, and parents can call the schools if they believe their child would make a good ambassador.

The recognition luncheon will be from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday, April 14, at the Hotel Colorado, 526 Pine St. in Glenwood Springs. It will feature talks by Challenge Aspen founder Amanda Boxtel on “Believing in Yourself”; Rick Phillips, executive director of Community Matters; Ed Lucero, senior program officer of the Colorado Trust; and several student ambassadors.

The public is welcome at the recognition presentation, scheduled for 12:15-1:30 p.m., though organizers said the room is likely to be standing-room-only for the presentation.

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