Locals Step Up to Implement Anti-Bullying Practices
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All of these are intimately connected, of course, and often go unnoticed, and certainly underreported. The behavior many associate with bullying, physical shoving, pushing, assault, and the threat of physical violence is really a small percentage, about 5% and 4%, respectively, and, endured mostly by boys.
Here in Libby, as everywhere, students are being encouraged to speak up and get help, and that help is coming from all over our community.
Maggie Anderson of Unite for Youth is well acquainted with all aspects of this problem, and has been incorporating anti-bullying projects into their greater vision of youth empowerment for some time.
One such program, Spring Up, is already part of the middle and High school curriculum, in Libby and Troy. “Spring Up focuses on 4 main areas,” explained Unite for Youth director Maggie Anderson. “One, is to strengthen developmental relationships between family members and peers. Next, we try to identify specific areas of concern, like drug and alcohol use, accidents, and bullying, including cyber-bullying. Third we focus on fostering a close working relationship with the Libby public schools, and working with superintendent Ron Goodman, and finally we are using this program to develop anti bullying projects. The impetus for this program came from the Youth risk Behavioral Survey (YRBS) done by the Office of public instruction in Helena.” Anderson explained. “We saw a steep increase in suicidal ideation, this opened the door to working with community partners , including Western Montana Mental health, Lincoln County public health, 0 to 5, and the Libby, Troy, and Eureka public schools.”
Working together, they organized a training for all the school staff in August of 2022, 180 individuals, including support staff and bus drivers.
“ They all committed a whole day to develop better ways to emotionally connect with the kids, and help them thrive” Anderson added.
From this came the Second Step program, which developed a social -emotional curriculum, for all classes ,K-12. Beginning in high school classrooms in the Fall of 2022, this weekly, 20 minute module is designed to help teachers and kids check in with each other, recognize emotions, and help kids develop empathy.
Working closely with Unite for Youth on this program ,Western Montana Mental Health contributed $16,000 and much expertise to the project. Although her job is primarily about helping prevent drug and alcohol abuse in adults and kids, Prevention Specialist Toya Laveway knows all these issues ae connected.
“A big part of my job is to support all the community agencies already in place to Help kids with mental health issues. We try to teach kids to resist the social pressure to use drugs and alcohol. Our motto is conspire to inspire.”
They try to offer fun alternatives, for example, the recent showing of the movie Avatar on an inflatable screen in the high school gym.
“Kids might think that most of their peers are using drugs and alcohol, but in reality it’s a small percentage” Laveway added.
Building on this is, The Lincoln County Health department, together with Unite for Youth and the Schools, with help from the LOR Foundation, is planning a series of workshops focused on teens called Teen Mental Health First Aid.
“This is an evidence-based program, designed to train teens to ask the right questions of each other.” Explained Anderson.
“We hope to offer an 8 hour course, broken up into 90 minute sessions, and built into the 10th grade curriculum,” explained Jennifer Mccully of the Lincoln County public Health department. The program will start by training 16 adults, chosen, in part by teachers, who will then train at least 10% of the county-wide school staff in ways to help identify kids in trouble.
Instructors will be trained in March, and the program is slated to begin in late spring of 2023. Partially funded by the Lincoln County Commissioners, with matching grants from LOR and other community agencies, this program is supported by a majority of parents, 60% of whom approved the program. While a good percentage had concerns, 0% said that they did not want the program.
“Most of the time when people do it (bullying), they just pass it off as a joke. They say, ‘I didn’t mean it’ but, we all know that they do.” Said Echo Heartspring, a Libby high student.
Heartspring says a lot of her friends have experienced different forms of bullying, “One time, one of my friends was teased and harassed because her dad died.” she recalled. “She reported the incident to Mr. May and talked to him and said it made a difference.” People are bullied for what they stand for,” said Juliana, another student, “Especially if they are not part of a big group.”
“I think kids bully other kids because they are scared and insecure, and they don’t want anyone to notice.” Heartspring added , “you really don’t know what someone else is going through.”
Private citizens Matt and David Hill are helping too. With the transition of their motel properties into much needed short-term housing, they are offering their two billboards to help deliver the message that there is help for kids in trouble.
“What really triggered us to help was the girl who recently committed suicide by the train” Hill explained, “I thought about it every time I heard that train honking. Its something nobody wants to talk about, but affects so many people, so, we hope to use our billboards to promote the 988 suicide hotline.”
Matt and David also helped pay for the instillation of hallway cameras in the high school, and have earmarked a couple of thousand dollars as seed money for future anti-bulling efforts.
“It’s especially hard for the kids now” noted Anderson, “ because it follows them home through social media, they cant get away from it.”
Jenifer McCully added. “I Just want teens to be empowered to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health crisis ,in themselves and their friends, including bullying, and, be able to do something about it”.
For more info on any of these programs. contact Maggie Anderson at Unite for youth or Jennifer McCully at the Lincoln county Health Dept.
By Moira Blazi, The Montanian