A pilot program set up after the Columbine massacre to curb bullying in high school is winning praise.

Colorado’s Evergreen High School was chosen for the project, called “Mentors in Violence Prevention.” Six other Jefferson County schools are in varying stages of setting up similar programs. Columbine itself is looking at the concept.

The program was created by Jackson Katz, a Long Beach, Calif., consultant who specializes in anti-harassment training for college athletes. He adapted it for high schools after being hired by Jefferson County 18 months ago.

The program gives students options for defusing bullying when they see it. Katz created a series of scenarios teens might encounter, such as seeing another student pushed into a locker. Options range from creating a distraction by dropping books to shouting, “Hey, what are you doing?,” to asking a trusted adult for advice.

“We were trying to show kids it’s cool to stand up for someone else,” said mentor Stephanie Dufford, a 17-year-old junior. “It’s not cool to not do something.”

Kate Bergles, an assistant principal at Evergreen, said that last year, the school chose 65 juniors and seniors who agreed to be trained as mentors.

“They represented all different groups at the school—football players, student leaders, smokers, kids who hang out at the library, our one and only Goth,” Bergles said. “I looked for kids who have some sort of influence in a group.”

Mentors were assigned to groups of four or five incoming freshmen. They called the new students over the summer and met with them on the first day of school. Then, from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. every Tuesday during first semester, mentors met with their group to work through the scenarios and options created by Katz.

They talked about what to do if one student is spreading rumors about another, how to handle a party scene where a guy is trying to talk a drunken girl into a bedroom, and how to deal with students calling others names.

Several Evergreen students said their initial skepticism about the program dissolved as the classes continued. Some mentors brought in doughnuts, shared personal stories, or made jokes to ease into the discussions.

“It made my first semester of high school easier,” said freshman Annie Geminder, 15, who was new to Evergreen this year. “I admit I was a scared little freshman. I’m not really that person anymore.”

The mentors, who all wore dark blue “MVP” T-shirts on Tuesdays, also took freshmen to football games and school events.

Mentors said it helped them, too. “You feel like you’re making things better,” said Fox, 18, a senior athlete who remembers being called names while a pudgy freshman.

Links:

Jefferson County Public Schools
1829 Denver W. Drive
Golden, CO 80401
phone (303) 982-6500,
web http://204.98.1.2