Don’t bully me |

Don’t bully me

DILLON VALLEY – It’s hard to be a kid. Let’s face it; children can be mean.

While it’s likely impossible to end all the teasing, ridicule and bullying involved with growing up, the Summit School District is working hard to minimize it.

Attorney General Ken Salazar, who has been working to prevent violence and promote safety in Colorado schools, visited Dillon Valley Elementary School this week to recognize its efforts in creating a safe and caring school environment.

“You have an amazing school here,” Salazar said to the students. “Everybody in the country is watching you, and they want you to succeed.”

Summit School District is one of 16 in the state to implement the “Bully-proofing Your School” program – at the elementary and middle school levels – as a part of the Safe Communities-Safe Schools Initiative and the Colorado Anti-Bullying Project.

Dillon Valley Elementary fifth-grader Robert Zieba said he’s seen changes in the school’s atmosphere in the past few years since the school implemented the program.

“More people are being nice to each other and stuff like that,” Zieba said.

The institution of a bully-proofing program might make it seem like Dillon Valley has a big problem with bullies and fighting – but that is not the case, said Principal Gayle Jones. Instead, conflicts tend to revolve around mean language and aggressive behavior in friendships.

“Rather than even calling a focus to bullying, we focus on creating a caring majority,” Jones said.

Where once the majority of students turned a blind eye on another student’s aggressive behavior, now they’ve learned how to help in those situations.

“(Words) can’t break your bones, but they can hurt your feelings,” said fourth-grader Ridge Strickler.

The idea is to encourage those with negative behavior to join “the caring majority” through positive peer pressure. Teachers and staff, trained in conflict resolution, teach their students the difference between tattling and telling, how to help avoid conflict and other strategies to resolve conflicts.

“We try to mobilize the silent majority,” Jones said. “We do that by shifting from an atmosphere of fear and intimidation … to an atmosphere of care and concern.”

Apparently, the program is working.

When Salazar randomly asked students why they thought their school was special, their answers included the following:

– “We care about everyone.”

– “Teamwork.”

– “Love and good friends.”

– “How much people can grow and how much safety there is.”

In response to Salazar’s question about what they shouldn’t do in school, they said:

– “Never bring or use weapons.”

– “You shouldn’t cuss, because it hurts other people’s feelings and could get you in trouble.”

– “No food fights, because the janitor has to clean it up.”

Student council members used role playing to illustrate some of their conflict resolution techniques to Salazar.

“I thought it was revealing,” Jones said. “The students that were represented (Monday) see this as a safe place and they don’t see a problem with violence in our school. The students reported a sense of caring and teamwork in our schools. That’s exactly what we’d hope they would say, but it was not a rehearsed situation.”

The success of the bully-proofing program at Summit elementary and middle schools and at the 15 other districts chosen to implement the program throughout the state is dependent upon the kind of leadership they have at Dillon Valley, Salazar said.

“If you guys can do it right here – and I know you can – they can say (at Colorado’s 1,700 other schools) “Do as they did in Dillon Valley Elementary,'” he said.

While it may seem like the significance of a visit from the attorney general would pass over the heads of most elementary students – and, certainly, many of them don’t have the slightest inkling what an attorney general does – it does make an impact, increasing the program’s chance of success, Jones said.

“When a person of a reputation, such as Attorney General Salazar, visits our schools, it validates for them that we are involved in a good program,” Jones said. “Hopefully, then, their buy-in to the program would be even stronger.”

Lu Snyder can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or

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