They have an impact

COTTONWOOD – Taking a good, hard look in the mirror can be a difficult thing to do, but that’s exactly what sixth- through eighth-grade students did Friday at Lakeview Public Schools.

While the boys worked on various structured team-building activities with Lakeview teachers, the girls worked with Michael Jackson, the director of business and operations for Project Footsteps, an organization that works with students on self-esteem, personal leadership, youth leadership, youth violence, race, culture, gender and bullying-like behaviors.

“You are the ones holding the key,” Jackson said to the girls. “You are the ones holding on to a system of treating people a certain way. You are the ones making those decisions, but at the same time you’re saying it sucks.”

Jackson asked the girls to examine their behaviors, both verbal and non-verbal, and to take some ownership for their choices.

“Not everyone is going to be friends, that’s ridiculous, but you do have an impact on each others’ lives,” he said. “Whether you want to admit it or not, you affect other people’s lives.”

Shelley Buntjer, who has been a licensed school counselor at Lakeview for six years, said that the focus was directed toward the sixth- through eighth-grade students because of where they are developmentally and socially in life.

“As every school knows, these issues are prevalent in our buildings and in our communities,” Buntjer said. “Our school tries to focus on preventative services as a whole student body so we can be proactive versus reactive. We do our best to work with all of our students and families in need.”

Buntjer said that the girls and boys were intentionally split up for the day, though both of them did team-building activities.

“The event is intended to provide a structured format so our girls can examine similarities and differences, explore empathy through diversity, practice team-building skills and positive communication, both verbal and non-verbal, challenge stereotypes and share personal challenges,” she said.

Change can be difficult, Jackson said, and the first step is typically the hardest. The girls took that first step Friday when they listened to each other and came to realize how their behaviors had affected one another.

“It doesn’t get better unless you make it,” Jackson said. “From personal experience, we know that the only way it changes is if people take a step, take ownership, to change.”

Jackson told the girls how he acted in high school in order to be popular. It wasn’t until later, in college, that he realized how much of a negative impact his actions actually had on those around him.

“Back then, I thought, ‘well at least I’m popular,'” he said. “But what I didn’t know was how it felt to be on the other side.”

One day while attending college in Minneapolis, Jackson said his high school friends came to visit. As a result, he got a wake-up call.

“I realized that I hadn’t really been a friend at all,” Jackson said. “They told me I had kind of been a jerk. They said ‘don’t think we didn’t see you drive off in your car with extra seats open after you told us you didn’t have room for us’ and other stuff like that.”

At first, Jackson said he didn’t want to deal with the awkwardness of apologizing, but he eventually did. Along with awareness, ownership can lead to positive change, he said.

Lakeview boys broke up into smaller groups and rotated around to seven different stations, including one where a teacher spoke about having positive attitudes, while at home, at school and at activities, Buntjer said.

Teacher Chris Sieling assisted the boys with a circle group, kind of like restorative justice, where the boys used one word to describe themselves, and then created videos on their iPads.

“We wrote about who we are, describing ourselves and making a video of it,” sixth-grader Tyler Imes said. “It’s easy when you have a lot of stuff to describe you. I wrote that I was funny, fast and athletic.”

Imes said he also enjoyed the physical education rotation and the card game in teacher Grant Will’s room.

“In phy ed, it was pretty fun,” Imes said. “We did relay races. Mr. Will’s room, that was pretty awesome, too. We played cards with him. He taught us a different game. It was pretty cool.”

The tricky part about the card game, Buntjer explained, was that no one could speak. The focus was on non-verbal communication, body language, diversity and the imbalance of control, she said. While difficult, Imes said he enjoyed it.

“You couldn’t really tell people your problems,” he said. “Sometimes we did sign language or acted it out to the players next to you. It was fun, though.”

Teacher Blair Miller assisted the boys with creating personal safety and choice videos.

“We’re supposed to make a mini commercial,” Juan Garcia said.

Garcia, along with Logan Gile, Lucas Hodges and Darrien Wallim, decided to do a video on drunk driving. While Garcia manned the iPad to video the action, Hodges pushed the other two team members in a teacher’s chair, used as a makeshift car. Hodges portrayed the drunk driver, while Gile played a passenger in the car.

“It hurt,” said Gile, who grabbed his cheek but started laughing soon after his face accidentally hit the wall on the second take of the filming.

Other groups did videos on texting and driving, bullying and other student issues.

This past week for National School Counseling Week, Buntjer said a variety of other activities, including morning announcements, have focused on delivering positive messages, such as forming good habits, having positive attitudes and treating others with kindness. In January, she said, Lakeview ninth-graders experienced a day-long “Respect” retreat with the Youth Frontiers project.

“They did that with five other schools,” Buntjer said. “That event allowed our older group of students to think about how they are treated and how they treat others. It allowed them to examine how life events can have a significant impact on them and even shape their lives and personalities.”