An Acts Matter Essay

Life as a sixth-grader can present many challenges. Leaving the elementary school that you endearingly considered your "safe place" is difficult for students and — let's face it — parents too. The unknown middle school environment is daunting and the memories parents have of their own experiences don't always help.

As a six-grade health teacher at Talent Middle School, I have spent the last eight years focusing on important and relevant topics that will help students be prepared for life. Why? Because life as an 11-year-old today has drastically changed since I was their age. My students must have practical skills — tools to ensure their success in life.

I have been blessed with the opportunity to teach six-graders at Talent Middle School about health 55 minutes a day, five days a week, all school year. As I await your

child's arrival, I stand at the door watching — watching their interactions with other students in the hallway. I listen — listen to their hopes, dreams, struggles and pain. I affirm that they are worth the time to communicate with.

I, too, wish the world was full of love, peace and happiness, but I witness hate, conflict and sadness everywhere I turn. There is no safe place from bullying. Bullying exists at the grocery store, sporting events, roadways, staff meetings and yes — in our schools.

Bullying exists and we must train our kids not to allow it to happen. How do we do this? Well, bullying prevention programs are only as good as they are practical. We all have different comfort zones in which we feel like we could actually help someone being bullied.

At Talent Middle School, we begin the year with bully awareness campaigns and prevention. Choice Point, a program presented by the organization Mediation Works, helps train students to deal with bully situations. Then we practice, role-play, review the terminology and revisit the topic often.

Bully prevention takes time — time that is built into the six-grade health schedule on a daily basis. Being an ally, not a bystander, is part of the class expectations. Aggressors are easily identified by my students and students use their Choice Point techniques to stop an incident from occurring. When Choice Points occur, that is, the point in time where students must decide to either help and be an ally or watch and be a bystander, I call it just that. "Here is your Choice Point," I say. "What are you going to do?"

Stephanie Hayes has served the Phoenix-Talent School District for the past 15 years, developing curriculum that includes bullying prevention and awareness campaigns. A graduate from Southern Oregon University, she currently teaches the most comprehensive year-long health curriculum in the Rogue Valley at Talent Middle School and advises the TMS Lifers Club, a drug-, alcohol-, and tobacco-free lifestyle that offers a monthly extracurricular event for students who take this pledge.

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