By DELANIA TRIGG, Assistant Editor
Gainesville Daily Register
There’s no shortage of kindness on the campus of Gainesville Middle School thanks to a project designed to help build students’ self-esteem and stamp out bullying.
The anti-bullying program is called Step Up & Be the Change. Students get the message about positive behavior during their Thursday student council meetings.
Maria Vega, the adult leader of the group, said Step Up & Be the Change is already making a difference in how the students treat each other.
“The goal is to engage youth as leaders and provide the skills to challenge negative attitudes and behaviors that encourage violence,” Vega said. “We have a great group of students that have stepped up to the challenge and are determined to be the change they want to see in their community.”
Vega — who is also Primary Prevention Coordinator at Abigail’s Arms —credits former GHS principal Gene Suttle with coming up with the idea for the program.
“Mr. Suttle wanted to encourage leadership in the school, and it was something I thought had potential to continue,” she said.
GMS principal Dave Glancy also plays an active role in the project. Last week, when the students were asked to write down positive comments about their classmates and then pass the banners on, Glancy joined the activity, sitting down with groups of students and adding his own remarks to the papers.
“Today we were able to make banners to encourage each other by writing something awesome about each other,” Vega said. “The students even got Mr. Glancy’s input. You know, a lot of times we say we don’t care what people say or think about us when in reality we do. This was a way for the students to receive that positive reinforcement we all crave from our peers and even from Mr. Glancy.”
Vega pointed out that the students also made and put up posters at the school during a recent Stop Bullying campaign.
In addition, agencies such as the Gainesville Police Department have helped spread the anti-bullying message.
“The students are wearing blue bracelets that say, ‘I am not a bully’ as a way of banding together against bullying,” she said. “The Gainesville Police Department was gracious enough to provide these bracelets for us and we are very grateful.”
Students who attended Thursday’s student council session said they like participating in the projects Vega facilitates.
Eighth grader Pedro Garcia said he’s learned a lot about the consequences of bullying.
“I don’t want to be a bully,” he said. “I’m a changed man.”
Kaytlynn Brown, a seventh grader, said Step Up & Be the Change is more than an anti-bullying project.
“It teaches you to be a good person and to be nice to people even when you don’t know them,” she said. “This is helping us learn to be good people.”
For others, the program teaches students not to fear peer ridicule.
“It’s about not being afraid to stick out and do the right thing,” she said.
The students’ banners included words of praise written in colorful marker. The banners contained words such as “cool,” “beautiful,” “fun to around.”
Vega encouraged the kids to keep their banners to remind themselves that others see them in a positive light.
“How much do people really know about us?” Vega asked the students. “Remember I said last time that people are like icebergs? Ninety percent of our personality is under the water. People only see about 10 percent of us.”
Projects such as Step Up & Make the Change are designed to make the most of the faces we show the world, Vega said.
The positive message should continue into the summer with Cooke County Leadership Camp. The camp is open to current sixth, seventh and eighth graders. GISD Bilingual Liaison Gloria Burgan and others including Vega will head up this year’s camp.