Joint effort between junior high and high school aims to cut down on putdowns
by: Chase Allgood Banks High School junior Arianna Daskalakis is participating in a year-long project aimed at reducing bullying in local schools.

Banks schools are interested in dropping out of national educational statistics in at least one area: bullying.

Students at the town's junior high and high school are participating in a project to rid those campuses of all forms of bullying - from lunchroom intimidation to cyberbullying on the Internet.

For some, the opportunity has been cathartic.

'I was a bully back when I was in private school,' said Arianna Daskalakis, a junior at Banks High. 'I've learned to think about the words I say and how they impact others.'

Across America each year, about 10 percent of students drop out of school because of chronic bullying, according to Katie McKenna, a family counselor with Washington County Youth Contact who works at Banks Junior High School and at Neil Armstrong Middle School in Forest Grove.

October was National Anti-Bullying Month, and student leaders at both Banks schools got on board by going class to class, talking to their peers about what bullying is and how to prevent it.

'We want to fundamentally alter the way kids look at bullying,' McKenna said. 'Some of them think it's beating someone up or stealing someone's lunch money.'

Two other staff members - Melissa Glader, a youth and family counselor at Banks High, and Lauren Previdi, a junior high counselor - said they'd been happy with the way older students have worked with younger ones to produce a culture of cooperation.

'Eighth-graders are role models for seventh-graders,' said Glader.

'These students know that bullying is not something we allow to go on,' noted Previdi.

Research shows that bullying starts in elementary school and peaks in junior high, when students are developmentally and emotionally vulnerable.

'The most awkward changes happen to you in junior high,' noted Bonnie Helm, a Banks High senior. 'You're 14, you're not happy with what you look like, and what others say about you hurts.'

Students acted out real-life situations to drive their message home, said senior Michaela Shurts. 'We talked about a girl with a really good group of friends who always hung out together on Friday nights, and all of a sudden one of the group wasn't talking to her,' she said.

Senior Kyle Selfaison wanted to bolster a student's desire to help when they see a bully in action. 'There's always something you can do,' whether it's to inject humor into the situation or ask an adult to intervene, he noted.

A school devoid of bullying is what Banks Junior High peer mediators Sabrina Haney and Harrison Dotson would like to see.

'We don't really advise kids. We have them work out their problem themselves,' said Haney, an eighth-grader.

Dotson, a seventh-grader, said he planned to use his mediation skills later in his life. 'When I'm older and married, I think it will help me to get along with my family,' he said.

Junior high principal Mark Everett said he was solidly behind the effort, dubbed 'A Bully-Free School.'

'This is typically about small issues between kids,' he said. 'We've received good feedback from the students.'

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