Nationally-known speaker Tina Meier visited with Moundridge this week as a culminating event for the district's new anti-bullying initiative.
Meier spoke to students, faculty and staff during an assembly Thursday afternoon, and parents and families Wednesday night. Her presence was intended to further drive home an emotionally healthy culture.
Meier is the founder of the non-profit Megan Meier Foundation. It's name is in honor of her 13-year old daughter, who committed suicide in 2006 after severe cyberbullying from a former friend and neighbor who used a false name.
As she told her story, she asked students to raise their hands if they could relate to her topics. Many hands were up when she asked if bullying happens in school and if they are connected via social media. She challenged them to evaluate situations and be mindful of their interactions.
“Be the leader that people actually respect,” she said, comparing standing up to bullies to athletic leaders. “Look at all the sports figures out there. The ones that have the long-lasting effect on our world are the ones who are leaders who have respect. I just want you to think about what you're doing ... I don't care what social media you do. Think about the things you're putting out there.”
She hoped her stories would provide a tangible and real situation that would foster change.
“I travel and talk about my daughter's story and hope that one child, one person in the community will hear the story,” she said. “And if I make a change for one person, then I've made a difference.”
Moundridge's new anti-bullying initiative, which was implemented this fall, is primarily driven by middle and high school assistant principal Eric Clark. Clark has been working for the past two years to develop an anti-bullying program with Larry Thompson, creator of Responsibility-Centered Discipline.
With RCD as a base, a character education program CORE —Communication, Observe/define, Responsibility, and Empowerment — was developed. Clark said the system breaks the cycle of bullying and teaches individuals how to identify, manage and discuss these moments in practical ways.
An important aspect of CORE is it defines the difference between bullying and conflict. Conflict happens more periodically and should be treated as a behavior issue, whereas bullying is repetitious.
“That's important for kids because they can find ways to identify it when it happens to them or others,” he said.
The program also identifies three parties — the bully, the bullied and the bystander — and aims to educate them on their responsibilities. It asks questions, such as why it's happening, why it continues and why it should stop.
The district's goal is to eventually eliminate bullying altogether, and has made strides already. Discussion is happening with kindergartners through seniors, and Clark said faculty and staff have noticed students being advocates for the bullied. There also has been an increase in conversations about it, whether students report themselves being bullied or being the bully.
“I would love to see the kids that graduate from Moundridge High School go out and treat others with respect and dignity and carry some of these principles,” he said.
Clark, who has a background in behavior management and discipline, has felt a personal drive as he has developed these initiatives and seen them succeed.
“It's unbelievable,” he said. “The best part for me is, I remember being a middle school student and bullying kids. It's out of my personal conviction for it that I went back and made right what I did wrong. I carried that with me. The part of me that is excited and encouraged by this is, I don't want kids to feel the same way I felt for all of those years.”
Clark said the administration shares that push to build a positive culture.
“I wouldn't say Moundridge has huge behavior issues or huge bullying issues, I would say we're very consistent with the rest of the country,” he said. “I think (the district) wanted to see a culture change in their school that promotes a positive learning environment where kids feel safe so they can learn.”