VHS will be the focus of study on the effectiveness of anti-bullying program

By Melanie Williamson

Approximately 140 VHS students gathered at Open Door Church on Friday, October 6, for special training. All the students attending this training are part Move to Stand, which is a student-run initiative at the high school. Each year, Move to Stand chooses projects they want to pursue throughout the year. They have focused on raising awareness of bullying, standing up against drug use, and promoting random acts of kindness within the school community among other things.

The training was being led by Kyle Pacque, Shane McCarty and other members of Actively Caring, which is an organization that seeks to create “a large-scale movement that aims to establish a more compassionate, interdependent, and empathetic culture within schools, businesses, organizations, and throughout entire communities” according to their website. They go on to assert this is accomplished by “encouraging people to actively care, individuals are inspired to perform intentional acts of kindness as part of their daily routine.” Actively Caring was created following the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech.

The all-day training consisted of both large-group activities and small-group sessions. All of the students had the opportunity to discuss their experiences with bullying. They also learned the Actively Caring approach to creating a more positive school environment.

Pacque shared that the training is two-fold; prevent harm and promote positive in tandem. He further stated, “the absence of bad does not equal good,” so while programs that focus solely on stopping bullying when it is happening are good, they aren’t going far enough. He specifically mentioned the “see something, say something” trend. The real goal needs to be creating a positive school environment where students are actively encouraging each other and the prevalence of bullying is diminished, if not eliminated.

He explained that this particular training was on teaching students how to be upstanders. He went on to say that a bystander is someone who sees something, but an upstander is someone who does something. Part of the training is on what Pacque described as the four barriers to upstanding.

An upstander must first notice something. The upstander must next interpret what they see as an opportunity to help. Does someone need help or is there something the upstander can do to make the situation better? The next step is taking personal responsibility. Once the upstanding interprets the need for help, they must then decide to help. The last barrier is strategy; the upstander needs to know how to help.

Pacque gave the example of seeing someone on the side of the road with a flat tire. He can see the problem, interpret it as a problem, accept the personal responsibility to help, but if he doesn’t know how to change a flat tire, what is he going to do? Pacque asserted it is about learning different strategies to help when students see another student struggling for any reason.

An essential part of this program according to Pacque is who delivers the training. The fact that Move to Stand is a student-run initiative is why it was such an ideal organization for this training. Pacque explained that the students have to look up to those that are training and relaying the information.

He explained that they work with college students to educate them on how to train high school students. The coaches that were helping at the Move to Stand training were mostly college students from Lakeland Community College. Once the high school students are trained and actively participating in the program, they will be able to teach the program to the middle school students. Pacque reiterated that this is an essential part of the process because delivery matters and choosing people that are seen as role models is essential.

Shane McCarty, the founder of Actively Caring, was also at the training. He explained they will be conducting three surveys throughout the year with the students who went through the training as well as a control group of students that did not go through the training.

He expressed excitement in explaining that they were given the opportunity to partner with Virginia Tech to evaluate the effectiveness of the program through a year-long research study on the students at Vermilion High School. The surveys will be focused on the impact the program has had on the individual students as well as the school atmosphere as a whole. Vermilion was chosen for this research due to the strength and size of the Move to Stand program.

Although McCarty already believes in the effectiveness of his program, he is eager to work with Virginia Tech to study the immediate and ongoing impact of the program. He shared that some of the college students that volunteer as Actively Caring coaches came through the program after being personally impacted by the Chardon School shooting. They volunteer because they believe in the program as much as he does.

When asked, McCarty said he learned about Vermilion’s Move to Stand through people with the Sandy Hook Promise organization, which Move to Stand has been involved with in the past. According to their website, Sandy Hook Promise is working to “build a national movement of parents, schools and community organizations engaged and empowered to deliver gun violence prevention programs.” One of the many ways they do this is by “organizing at a community level by identifying, training and empowering volunteer “promise leaders” to raise awareness, educate and deliver programs to help prevent gun violence in their community.”

Vermilion High School Principal Lisa Deliz first shared this opportunity with the school board last month. When asked, she stated she is very proud of the school for being chosen for the research, and she is very excited about how the year will go. She also credited VHS counselor Cortney Feige with making this all happen. Deliz asserted that Feige was the one that communicated with McCarty promoting VHS and setting up the training.

In addition to this initial training, there will be ten different training workshops offered throughout the school year, and students will be taught more strategies for being upstanders. Feige will oversee the training and work with students as the program is implemented.

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