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Madison School District taking steps to prevent bullying in schools

REXBURG, Idaho (KIFI) - It may only be the second day of school for students in the Madison School District, but that isn't stopping members of law enforcement, school district and the Madison High School Hope Squad from working together to make an inclusive culture.

Sergeant Isaac Payne, the spokesperson for the Madison County Sheriff's Office, says the driving force behind their efforts is a chance to keep kids safe.

"We talk about safety in schools, part of our strategy and this is in cooperation with the Rexburg Police department, the state police, all these all these law enforcement agencies are on the same page as this is." We have to have a presence in those schools that's going to negate a lot of the bullying. It's going to increase just our overall school safety."

That joint effort from all the agencies is cumulating by helping students in the Madison School district the necessary skills in handling conflict in a positive manner.

"There are instances of bullying, and we have a way of dealing with that. But we have to look at this as the verbal and social skills that adults often take for granted. Those kids haven't learned yet. So those conflict resolution skills, those verbal skills, they have to be taught those even on the most simplistic level," Sergeant Payne said.

He says he also helps kids understand that while bullying can happen not every negative interaction you may experience through others is bullying.

"There's times where people act rude and we always identify that as maybe it was unintentional, but it was rude. I didn't really like it. It's a one off, right? Maybe they were mean. So being mean, doesn't necessarily equate to bullying because maybe they did something intentionally. But it was just that one time you worked it out. It's just being mean. And then that that third category, that's that's bullying where it happens, where it's mean and it happens repetitively and it keeps happening," he said.

Madison School District Superintendent Randy Lords says the district is grateful for the help of having law enforcement at every school, but they are also taking other steps to help the kids and prevent bullying in their schools.

"We try to make sure that our teachers are out in the halls between classes, you know, making sure they see the activities that are going on in the halls. And that helps alleviate a lot of of that bullying," he said.

Lords says they have also implemented programs on a district and school level to create an inclusive culture.

"One of the things that we've done is we have what's called Madison Cares. It's a mental health program that we have in our district and with that program we have what's called cat teams, child assistance teams. And so in every one of our schools, we have our teachers, principals, counselors. They meet about once a month or twice a month, depending on the schools and what their needs are to address everything from students mental and emotional health to bullying situations to students being unkind to one another," Lords said. "So that's one of the things that we we have done and are excited about. Anything we've implemented in our secondary schools is what's called Hope Squad. And Hope Squad deals with mental health, suicide prevention and awareness. A component of that is dealing with bullying."

He says as administration and teachers in the school try to show these kids they really care about their students.

"Everybody wants a caring adult in their life, especially students. And so our teachers are out in the hall like we ask them to be between classes. You know, you get to see students come into your class. You say, good morning, good afternoon. Ask them about themselves, their family," he said.

Lords says the Hope Squad at Madison High School is already making waves. Ashton Peterson, one of the members of the group, says part of how they try to help is making everyone feel included.

"When people start to realize that, they're like, 'Oh, hey,' we can start hanging out, having fun and actually doing things that makes everybody feel included. And this way it combats bullying so everybody can see, okay, it's like everybody has like same issues or everybody likes this, you know, stuff like that," Peterson said,

Something his squad members all echoed.

With it being only the second day of the new school year, Whitney Mckenzie recalled how on Valentine's Day last year. everyone was able to feel special.

"The week before Valentine's Day, all the squad members spent all their lunches, their mornings like after school, and we made flowers and candies for all of the different students. So on Valentine's Day, we set up all the doors and handed out these candy flowers to all the students and told them, Happy Valentine's Day," she said. "And I really liked that because on Valentine's Day it's a really lonely day for some people and some people have a very hard time going to school. And so I really liked how we handed it out to people and made them feel welcome on their day."

"I like to try to like look over all the halls and try to find people that I can go say hi to, like talking to people. And at the end of when I'm talking to them, I try to make sure to say, Oh, it's great seeing you today," Mckenzie said.

Everyone in the squad has a different responsibility, and for Jenny Crawford, she ran the squads social media pages last year and says it helped make a difference.

"We posted like videos that we made. We would go out and make funny videos to imply like what we're trying to create at the school, but also like for hope we would say like like wear a pink shirt like wear pink today or something like that or take a picture with someone new that you mean they'd take a picture and tag us and then like they could get like a raffle ticket or something like that," Crawford said.

She says she feels one thing that is making a difference is how she likes too high five her fellow classmates and hopes it makes their day.

Each member of the squad is trying every day to do something that makes someone else's day. For Tanner Severn, taking away the use of labels is a big step.

"Negativity is caused by a lot of labels. Just make it a goal to never, ever call somebody a mean name and make sure to try to get everyone to you know, if you're going to call somebody something, encourage them and lift them up. Even in everyday conversations. Because those little things that can either bring people down or bring people up," Severn said.

He says by being a friendly face for kids in the school to rely on has been a life changing experience for him and others.

"One thing would be getting up early in the morning and going and making all the the process of making all the little cards that helped me throughout the day to be more service oriented. And then, you know, expand on that. Help me to serve others, because I was already in that mindset. I think just by doing the actual process of making help squad helped us to be more friendly to others and help each other," he said.

Cambria Bingham says for kids who are struggling, it may be easier to go to a friend their age over an adult.

"I feel like a lot of us don't realize how many people are going through the exact same thing as us. So when people feel comfortable like telling us like, this is what I'm going through, then I think it helps me personally. Like I can see, Oh wait, you're struggling with that. Like I actually am too. And then I think it's a lot easier for them to talk to someone their age about it so that then they can know like, Oh, wait, you're my age, you're going through the same thing. You actually understand how I'm doing," Bingham said.

She says the main thing the Hope Squad is striving for this school year is having a successful 'hope week.'

"Hope Week is our main thing. We are starting to have a class this year so we can be able to do more. I think all of us on Hope Squad, we all individually try to help people feel involved and feel seen and we all try to do things individually, but having the class will be able to do things together more intentionally as a group, do things," she said.

Madi Reynolds says last year, their hope week made a big difference on the student body.

"That was a big deal for a lot of people because one of the things that we did was put everyone's name on a little fish and then we had them all throughout the walls and everybody got to go and find their name. And it was a big deal to a lot of people because they were like, Oh, people know who I am at this school. People know that I'm a person. And there were little notes on the fish that said Just something nice about that person. It was like, People know me, people know what I do. People care that I'm here.," Reynolds said.

She says the whole squad is looking forward to a well-planned hope week this year.

"Last year it was a little bit of a last minute project, but this year it's going to be pretty awesome because I think we have tons of time to prepare and we can do even more activities to help everybody," she said.

Lincoln Carter says while as a squad they try to help where they can, sometimes they might need to send in a helping hand to a student in need.

"If they come and talk to us and they're just like, dude, I'm just like this going on, like, we can try and help them and kind of. But what we'll usually do is we'll go and we have these little cards will go and take to the counselors and kind of affirm, just be like, Hey, this person's kind of having a rough day or they're going through something tough," Carter said. "And like, if you just meet with them some time and kind of ask them how everything's going because kind of that's like that's kind of how you can get them to talk, like kind of need someone else to make the first move instead of them just going in and talking so they can like have the counselors call them and be like, hey, so I just I'm just wondering how you're doing, like what you're struggling with or what's going on in school and just kind of because that's I feel like that would just be kind of easier to go and talk to the counselors and the teachers."

He says part of how they help is by reminding students that picking on someone isn't a good idea.

"I feel like sometimes you'll see some bullying going on inside the hallways or if you'll see someone post something on their, you can just go up to that person kind of individually, just be like, Hey, dude that wasn't really cool what you did there. Like you could go to the principal's or go talk to one of the teachers and go kind of tell them what happened and what situation is going on there. Because we don't want anyone to like kind of feel singled out there for getting bullied. And because, like, that's not fair to them," he said." They don't they didn't really deserve to just be picked on like that. They didn't really do anything. No, their kid."

He says this year he hopes to continue making a difference.

Mikelle Barney is a school counselor and the advisor to the Hope Squad. She says in the short time the squad has been at the school, big changes with in the school's culture have been made.

"We were not able to get it actually started till halfway through the school year. But it has brought a lot of inclusivity to our school," Barney said.

She says the change in the school culture has been good but there's still a lot of work to do.

"One of the things that I'd like to see with our Hope Squad this year as a counselor, I see a lot of students that really need just a friend, just someone you know maybe they can sit with at lunch or a couple of days a week. Someone that they feel noticed by more often. When our students come into Hope Squad, they know that this is more than just an activity that we do here. This is kind of a bit of a lifestyle. You know, they're very kind individuals and we'd like to make sure that our Hope Squad is representative of all of our cultures and students here so that everyone can feel that there is someone on Hope Squad for them," Barney said.

She says part of their efforts this year is to be working with every club and sport the school has to offer.

"What we'd like to be able to do is support other clubs and the students in those clubs and the advisors in those clubs so that we can be more involved in, so that we can be out and be seen more as well as the other clubs are wanting to do that with Hope Squad and another club so that we can become more of a collaborative environment club wise and just it helps bring students together."

She says even when kids experience negative things away from school knowing they have people who care about them not just at home is a big game changer.

"I mean, you can't always stop that, but if they know, Hey, I got people in my corner, I have people here for me, you know, I have my people, you know, if students know that they have that, you know, on the other end, that's that's a that's that's really important. So that's what we're trying to bring even more so to Madison High School through the whole squad," she said,

Principal Bradee Klassen says the hope squad not only started a school wide culture change but created a decrease of bullying related incidents at the school.

"I often say that's what that's the best part of my job is the students getting getting to work with all of our students here and there. They're absolutely incredible. I love them all. But yeah, bullying is a problem in all schools and hope squad helps combat that. It's it's it's a great program and it's something that we're really excited about," Klassen said,

He says creating an extra link in a chain of people willing to help these students is great.

"The great thing about Hope Squad is students can talk to students. That's they're kind of that link between the students and the administration of the students and the teachers. You know, students might feel uncomfortable or unwilling to come and talk to an adult. And so that's really where the Hope Squad steps in is they can they can talk to a friend and then that friend can refer said student to a counselor or administration or a teacher, and then that student can get the help from there," he said.

As a school principal, one thing Klassen says he really tries to do is remind everyone no matter what they like to do in high school, that, "We're all bobcats. We're all in this together. And we want to just continue to to grow and become better each and every day."

Article Topic Follows: Education
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Braydon Wilson

Braydon is a reporter for Local News 8 and Eyewitness News 3.

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