Youth take leadership role in violence prevention


By Mara Koch

Special to The SUN

Local high school students have taken up the charge to reach out to younger children and prevent bullying. In a discussion on bullying, the teens agreed that the best way to prevent bullying was to talk with younger children about bullying with a focus on building up their self-esteem. These teens decided to make a difference.

Mara Koch, outreach and education coordinator for Archuleta County Victim Assistance Program, has been talking with fifth- and sixth-grade students about bullying and being an upstander during their health classes at Pagosa Springs Middle School. Last year, the teens decided to join her in her presentations. They wanted to share their stories of being bullied with younger children and talk with them about how they can overcome those experiences.

This year, the students created their own presentations on bullying for fifth- and sixth-graders and went into the classrooms to talk with younger students in March and May. The presentations included inspirational quotes, a video about bullying bystanders and break-out sessions with smaller groups of students. The smaller groups discussed their personal experiences with bullying and created a role-play with students modeling effective ways to be an upstander, interact with both the victim and the bully, and end bullying.

According to Lisa Dess, health teacher at PSMS, “Our students really enjoyed the presentation, and we have seen several students becoming more conscious of being upstanders and trying to put a stop to bullying. We hope they will come back next year and work with our students again. It was a valuable experience for them.”

The youth leaders are taking it a step further. Maryann Goodell, Omar Riuz, Sara Sloan and Alex Willeford participated in the Expect Respect: SafeTeens Youth Leadership curriculum. Through this evidence-based violence prevention program, they have learned about the various types of violence (such as bullying, teen dating violence, and sexual assault) and ways in which they can support their peers and be an engaged bystander in the effort to end the violence. The program culminated in a youth-led community action project.

In an effort to positively impact their school climate, the teens decided that they wanted to communicate to teachers how important their efforts and open hearts are to that positive climate. They held a teacher-appreciation event on May 23 to express to the school staff how important they are and how much they are appreciated.

“People feed off of one another’s energy. Having teachers who are excited to teach and continue learning with their students creates an energy that will make some students strive to meet those expectations. We want to remind our teachers that their efforts can still impact us positively, and we hope to renew their vigor within the classroom,” says Willeford.

Ruiz and Willeford also talked about bullying at the Kids’ Fair held in April. They made “upstander hand puppets” with the young children and shared resources on how to be an upstander in response to bullying.

“These young people are making an impact on others in our community, especially younger children. It is exciting to think about all that they will contribute, as they grow. They have a solid foundation for being a tremendous asset to any community in the future,” says Koch.