Hillcrest Junior High is stepping up its anti-bullying efforts at the school. As part of the campaign, students competed in a poster contest and viewed the film “Bully.”
Vice principal Andrew “Buck” Corser said the school saw a concern among a small group of students, which was enough to convince the administration that something needed to be done to educate students about the issue.
“The reason we chose to be so diligent with addressing bullying at our school is based on how devastating it can be to the individual,” Corser said.
Around December of last year, Corser said there were concerns from students who were getting picked on repeatedly, especially through verbal aggression.
“I don’t feel it is a widespread problem at our school, however, this type of program allows us to focus on character education and specifically on evoking feelings of empathy, respect and kindness amongst our students,” Corser said.
He called up some businesses including Best Buy, Deseret First Credit Union and Nickel Mania and asked them to sponsor a poster contest that promotes a safe and bully-free school. The school received more than $500 in cash and prizes.
“It was to get ideas to see how students feel about what’s going on in the school,” Corser said. “It was very successful.”
The school picked one winner from each grade and one winner overall. Sixty students participated, and their posters now adorn the walls of the school.
Corser said it’s important that the activities they do allow the students to give feedback.
“For the poster contest, we did group discussions by gender and grade,” he said. “It emphasized the fact that the kids are the most powerful ones with our help and structure.”
Corser has gotten some positive feedback from students.
“At lunch time, there was a girl who people would play around with her and take her food,” he said. “After we went through and did the bullying posters, that stopped.”
Another result of this anti-bullying initiative is that it has given a means for students to come forward and discuss their concerns.
“This allows us to look at how we are as teachers to the students, top down, everybody has to be approachable,” Corser said. “Kids are feeling better about communicating with us.”
What Corser wants students to take away also is a sense of unity among the school, especially because the students are at a tough age when they have to face issues of just growing up. To him, bully is a “disheartening” problem that should not happen at any level to anyone.
“We want to build confidence with our students, character and self-worth,” Corser said.
Taking the model from other schools, Hillcrest Junior put together a three-year plan to address bullying. Corser said it’s still in the works, but the school plans to have themes such as Tolerance Tuesday to reinforce what they’ve started.
“We need to educate them … follow up and be passionate about it and continue to work one on one in small groups with these kids,” Corser said.
In addition to the poster contest, the school contacted the Utah Film Center, which agreed to present a screening of the independent film “Bully” to Hillcrest Junior’s seventh-graders.
“The Utah Film Society, they were very good to us,” Corser said. “They helped get us down there, and they showed the movie to us, so that was a huge help.”
“Bully” came out in 2011 and documented the stories of students who are or were victims of bullying.
“It was hard to watch some of the very cruel bullying parts of that movie,” Corser said. “It was realistic, so it invoked a lot of empathy with me and with our students.”
The school would have liked to get more students to see the film, but there weren’t enough buses. Corser said they chose the youngest students because they’re “at an age where they encounter more of this problem.”
About 200 seventh-graders went to see the movie. Among them was Elisabeth Johnson, who said many students got emotional.
“It was sad to hear their stories because they were kids our age,” Johnson said. “A lot of people cried.”
Another seventh-grader, Joshua Christensen, said the movie was inspiring.
“It was a good movie to teach kids how to stick up to a bully and to tell others about it so they know if they do encounter a bully to get help,” Christensen said.
Taylor Rubalcava, a seventh-grader, said he learned how big of an issue bullying is after seeing the film “Bully.”
“I knew about bullying, but I didn’t think bullying was that big of a deal,” he said. “It can be really serious [because] you don’t know what else is going on.