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Pushing lessons about school safety

Post Independent/Kara K. Pearson
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“You had my number, and I asked and all, but no, no, no, no, no. Don’t let the weird looking Eric kid come along.” – Journal entry of Eric Harris, Columbine High School These words written in large, colorful letters for all the fourth- and fifth-graders of the Glenwood Springs Elementary students to see clearly. The point? To make a change.Every student knew the history behind Eric Harris and the rampage he was part of in 1999.

Students partook in the Safe School Ambassadors Program Thursday at Glenwood Springs City Hall to better understand what they can do to help prevent situations like the recent school shootings from happening at their school.”We empower the young people and teach them how to deal with the situations themselves,” said program instructor De Palazo. “In thepast, teachers and adults were expected to be the ones to handle the situation, but the students witness more of the situations than the adults do.”The two-day program, which finishes today, focuses on teaching the students how to spot situations of bullying or mistreatment of fellow students, and the appropriate actions of how to deal with it.”Students make up 90 percent of the population at the schools,” Palazo said. “They are the ones that can really make a difference.”One of the students, Laura McDermott, now has a better handle on how to deal with situations she has witnessed in the past.

“I learned how to make kids feel safer at school,” she said. “I like helping kids and making them feel better about themselves.”The program helps students identify different types of mistreatment, such as exclusion, put-downs, bullying, and physical mistreatment. Students are encouraged to work with friends and people they know best, because they already have a relationship with them, and will have the greatest influence.”Today we learned how to put-up a put-down and how to make kids feel safer at school,” Laura said.The students learned how to balance a situation like complimenting a student that has been put-down by another student. The ambassador is encouraged not to talk down to the aggressor, but to impose in a positive way so as not to further escalate the situation.”Kids are empowered by helping them be aware and give them ideas how to deal with a particular situation,” said school counselor Leslie Way. “It teaches them how to deal with the situation in a positive way.”Safe School Ambassadors was created by Community Cares, a non-profit company based in California that promotes positive youth development. This is the second year for the program to visit the Roaring Fork School District in the elementary level. Introduced to districts at the high school and middle school levels, the program entered at elementary levels a few years ago and now reaches 450 school districts nationwide. The hope? That teaching students early is the best prevention.



After the safe ambassadors training, students continue to be active in the program at their respective schools by implementing the strategies they learned and meeting once a week. Weekly meetings allow the students to discuss what situations they witnessed during the week, what they did to diffuse the situation, share their experiences with teachers and adults, and record all of their experiences in action log books.”You students are really making change happen today,” Palazo said. On the front of the students’ workbooks reads a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”Contact John Gardner: 945-8515, ext. 16604jgardner@postindependent.com


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