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Attorney general speaks to Cedar Springs students


 

Michigan State Attorney General Bill Schuette with Cedar Springs students.

Cedar Springs students team with Schuette, Michigan State Police to tackle bullying, violence

By Judy Reed

Students walk the hallways at school every day carrying weights that others know nothing about. Some are victims of physical abuse, either at home or at school; some are being bullied by their peers; some are victims of sexting or date rape; and others feel like failures and are contemplating suicide or violence.

Cedar Springs High School and Middle School students kicked off a program last Thursday, April 14, that gives students a way to report and stop bullying and violence.

State Attorney General Bill Schuette was on hand, along with the Michigan State Police and local law enforcement, to kick off the OK2SAY program, a student safety initiative that enables students to confidentially report criminal activities or potential harm directed at students, school employees, and schools. Leaders from numerous community groups were also on hand for the presentation.

Since its inception in 2014, students have submitted more than 3,700 tips across the State of Michigan. Bullying, cyber bullying, self-harm, and suicide are the categories that receive the most tips. Other categories that receive tips include: drug use, weapon possession, and assault.

Based on research from the U.S. Secret Service, in 81 percent of violent incidents in U.S. schools, someone other than the attacker had knowledge of the attacker’s plan but failed to report it.

“OK2SAY is about communication, early intervention, and prevention,” said Michigan State Police Inspector Matt Bolger. “When students make the courageous decision to break the code of silence and speak out against harmful behavior, they equip authorities with the information needed to respond to threats and avert tragedy. That’s a good thing for Michigan schools, communities, and families.”

The goal of OK2SAY is to stop harmful behavior before it occurs by encouraging students (or adults) to report threatening behavior to caring adult authorities who can help. They can confidentially submit tips anytime by using the OK2SAY mobile app, online, email, texting, or by calling trained program technicians. Upon receipt of a tip, specially trained OK2SAY technicians address the immediate need and forward the information to the appropriate responding law enforcement agency or organization. Tips go to schools, local law enforcement agencies, community mental health agencies or the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Schuette told the students and The Post that it is about changing the culture from “don’t be a snitch” to “it’s ok to communicate to save a life.”

“OK2SAY has made a difference. We are stopping violence in its tracks and making school a safer place for our kids,” said Schuette. “Credit for the program’s success is directly attributable to the thousands of student ‘heroes in the hallway’ who stepped up and took ownership of their roles in keeping their schools and classmates safe.”

“The thing that struck me about the program, is that it has saved lives,” Schuette told the Post. “It’s not perfect. But what we have done is reached out to say, here is an opportunity to help people stop bullying, to stop a weapon being brought to school. It’s tech friendly, confidential. It can be done without fear of intimidation,” he explained.

Students have several ways they can communicate a tip to authorities. They can download and use the mobile app for either iPhone or android; they can call 1-8-555-OK2SAY, 1-855-565-2729; Text: 652729 (OK2SAY); they can email ok2say@mi.gov; or visit the Web: www.ok2say.com fill out an online form.

Attorney General Schuette honored Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, Jo Spry, with a special license plate in a frame that reads “OK2SAY.”

Attorney General Schuette honored Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, Jo Spry, with a special license plate in a frame that reads “OK2SAY.” Photo by J. Reed.

The state program, which started in fall 2014, just happened to be inspired by our current Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, Jo Spry, before she came to Cedar Springs. Spry, who grew up in Greenville, was a principal at a school in Colorado, during the years after the attack at Columbine. Colorado adopted a program called “Safe to Tell,” and Spry said they adopted it at her high school in the Woodland Park District. “I knew the impact it had. It was a way for students to have that voice. They are not always comfortable coming forward,” she explained.

When Spry came home to Michigan, and settled in Cadillac, she began to work with legislators, the attorney general’s office, and community organizations to adopt a similar program here in Michigan. “I didn’t run across anyone who didn’t want it,” she said.

Schuette honored Spry during the program with a special license plate in a frame that reads “OK2SAY.” Spry did not know that was going to happen.

“It’s truly a passion of mine to make sure students in all of our schools are safe,” said Spry. “OK2SAY is a wonderful program, and I will be eternally grateful to the legislators, community groups and the attorney general that stepped up to see it through.”

Schuette explained that he does not often get to go to the kickoff of the programs. “We have a team of 35 of us that do this, and I go when I can,” he said. He seemed visibly pleased with the turnout of the crowd and the way that the program was embraced. “I think from the moment I walked in, and saw everyone, it was powerful and uplifting. It’s really a powerful tool. The more we can communicate this and get it out there, the better it will be.”

“School should be a safe and welcoming place for all students,” said Dr. Laura VanDuyn, Superintendent. “Cedar Springs Schools are committed to a bully-free environment. We are grateful that the Attorney General choose to visit our school to address our students and encourage them to step up and do the right thing.”

Attorney General Schuette poses with the new peer listening club. Photo by J. Reed.

Attorney General Schuette poses with the new peer listening club. Photo by J. Reed.

OK2SAY is not the only program being implemented to help students. The anti-bullying program in use at the elementary level, “Be Nice” is being moved up to secondary level, and a new peer listening club has been formed. The group was formed after senior Jessica Durrell heard about the program at a youth group she attended. She brought it back to her Rotary Interact Leadership group (another new program at the high school this year) and the peer listening group spun off into it’s own group. It is made up of nine members—six girls and three boys—who can listen to other students as needed during the day. “They will listen to peers who need to vent, talk about stressors, academics, etc.,” explained Dr. VanDuyn. “They are there to listen, not give advice.” Counselor volunteers have trained all the students.

For more information on OK2SAY, visit www.ok2say.com.

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Taking the next step


Students show support for anti-bullying campaign

Cedar Springs Middle School students had a “white out” last Friday, May 12, and was one of several schools that participated in a helicopter flyover as part of the be nice. campaign (against bullying). Photo by Joe Corriveau.


By Autumn Fish

 

Students at Cedar Springs Middle School wore white last Friday to signal solidarity against bullying and participate in a helicopter flyover.

For the past couple of weeks, students at Cedar Springs Middle School have been learning about bullying and working out ways to get rid of it completely. A group of GVSU students and the West Michigan Mental Health Foundation visited CSMS last week as a part of the be nice. campaign, which encourages kindness and civility among all students.

To take the campaign to the next step, the Mental Health Foundation teamed up with Amway and Fox 17 News to fly a helicopter over participating schools. Students from middle schools and high schools across west Michigan were involved in this campaign. At CSMS, students gathered in the field on the west side of the school to form the words “be nice.” The helicopter then flew over the students to take aerial pictures of the words they created. Other schools involved included Grandville Middle School, Grandville High School, Grandview Elementary School, Century Park Learning Center, Forest Hills Central Middle School, West Catholic High School and Timberland Charter Academy in Muskegon Township.

Students also came together by having a school-wide white out in which all students and staff wore white in order to discourage bullying.

Following the flyover, teachers were able to bring their students to an assembly in the large group room of the middle school. Students from Cedar Springs High School directed the assembly. They presented a few skits and talked to students about bullying and other difficulties they may face as they enter high school. The skits exhibited troubles faced in high school such as bullying, drinking, smoking, depression, peer pressure, suicide, and more. CSHS students stressed the importance of keeping an open mind when students are in high school; to realize that they will eventually have to make choices that will change their lives. CSMS students were able to hear first hand about things that really do happen in high school by students that are currently going through those situations. Over 350 students and staff members attended the assembly put on by the high school students.

CSHS students can only hope that their presentation helped students of the middle school prepare for high school, to help them understand what to expect. What middle school teachers have been telling their students all along is true: They really are going to go through these troubles in high school.

To learn more about the be nice. campaign, visit www.themhf.org/index.php/education/be_nice1/

Autumn Fish is a junior at Cedar Springs High School.

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One step at a time


By Autumn Fish 

Students at Cedar Springs Middle School received a wake-up call Tuesday, May 8, when a group from the Kent County Mental Health Foundation visited their school to present an assembly for a campaign known as be nice. The goal is to open the eyes of young students in communities across Michigan to help them realize how large of a problem bullying is.

The presentation started out by showing a video created by the State of Michigan Surgeon General. The video, created using only text, pictures, and music, showed many teens across Michigan who had taken their lives because of bullying.

According to Christy Buck, Executive Director of the Mental Health Foundation, suicide is the second highest cause of death among teens and college students in Kent County. Buck said that statistic is higher than both the national and state statistic, where it’s the third leading cause of death. Bullying is often a precipitating factor to suicide.

“Talking about it helps prevent it, and students need to recognize the factors that contribute to it. We wanted to take a proactive approach and operate on the model that everybody needs to be nice, rather than anti-bullying, or saying don’t do this or that,” she explained. “We target the 80 percent that are good kids and give them the tools and ammunition to make it work.”

Together, students had brainstorm sessions during the assembly to think of ways that they can keep making a difference in their school. Students were able to think of different events and activities that they could do at school to help eliminate bullying.

This Friday, May 11, CSMS students will be wearing white in memory of those who have been bullied or to those who may have taken their lives because of bullying. At a designated time, the students will all conglomerate in the field next to the middle school as a helicopter does a flyover and take aerial pictures. The helicopter flyover is also a part of the be nice. campaign and will also be traveling to other schools across west Michigan the same day.

Earlier this year, Cedar Springs High School also had a presentation similar to the be nice. campaign. Speaker Laurie Stewart, from LA Stewart Presentations, in Kalamazoo, came to talk to students about being the difference in their school. This assembly seemed to really open the eyes of many students at CSHS. Following Laurie’s presentation, a climate group was created. This group consists of about 20 students from different cliques in the high school. The idea of this group is to keep students from forgetting about what they learned during the assembly; to keep students from losing their motivation to change the climate of the school.

Students can make the difference as long as they are willing to work for it; one step at a time, students can be the change they want to see.

Autumn Fish is a junior at Cedar Springs High School. Post Editor Judy Reed also contributed to this story.

 

 

 

 

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