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Counselors detail MLSD bullying prevention efforts

Feb. 10—MOSES LAKE — Counselors reviewed programs used by the Moses Lake School District to combat bullying in a presentation to the Moses Lake School Board on Thursday.

"I can tell you with assurance that all counselors employed by the Moses Lake School District care very deeply about this topic," said Columbia Middle School counselor Chris Mason.

Midway Elementary counselor Mari Cardwell detailed some of the programs available for elementary schools.

"Our elementary schools all take a proactive approach to dealing with bullying by providing training and prevention education for our students," she said.

The program used by all MLSD elementary schools includes daily or weekly components for student behavior and emotional support, Cardwell said.

"All of the counselors go in and do the bullying piece," she said.

Lessons are targeted for different ages, she said, from preschool to fifth grade at the elementary level. Kindergartners through third graders learn how to recognize the signs of bullying, how to tell an adult if there's a problem, and how to refuse to participate. Children also learn what bystanders can do to change the situation, what Cardwell called "bystander power." Fourth and fifth graders learn about the responsibilities of bystanders when they see someone being bullied, she said. The discussions about bystanders also include online bullying.

Training is given to school staff also, to establish consistent standards throughout the process, she said. School staff also are trained in ways to encourage a positive environment in the classroom.

"In addition to that they are also trained in how to coach and create safety and behavior plans and continue to follow up with students as needed. And we do have to do that from time to time for certain students," Cardwell said.

The information given to students is available to parents, she said.

Some elementary schools also have reward programs for positive behavior; at Midway, that has weekly and monthly components, Cardwell said.

Mason said bullying prevention programs for middle schoolers actually start in fifth grade, when school staff visits the elementary schools.

"We're starting to build relationships with them, we're talking to them, we're answering their questions about middle school, we're trying to ease their fears about middle school," he said. "I think that's a good first step in (students) feeling comfortable with middle school."

All sixth graders take "Survival 101" classes, which include anti-bullying information and instructions on how to find and talk to school counselors. All seventh graders receive suicide prevention classes, and eighth graders get some preparation for the move to the high school. At CMS students get instruction in behavior expectations, among other things, in their advisory classes, he said.

Moses Lake High School counselor Enrique Tarver said counselors have to take into account there are three different high schools, MLHS, Vanguard Academy and MLSD Digital.

"Three unique high schools, completely different from each other," Tarver said.

Students in the online program meet periodically for instruction on student behavior, Tarver said, and there's also individual instruction in behavioral expectations.

Vanguard Academy students meet in groups twice each day, and the instruction includes character and behavioral expectations, Tarver said. When students do have trouble with each other, Vanguard has students trained in mediation, as well as requiring students to take responsibility for their behavior, a process that involves administration.

The opening of Vanguard Academy meant a drop in the MLHS student population, and Tarver said administrators took the opportunity to evaluate the high school and make changes. Tarver called it "a major school culture shift."

There's more student recognition, he said, and the first three days of school are devoted to getting students more involved and engaged in school. High school administrators, teachers and students have continued those activities throughout the school year, Tarver said.

"The goal is, we want people who wouldn't normally participate in stuff to start participating," he said.

There's increased scrutiny in the MLHS halls, too, with both cameras and adults.

"Security, SROs, administration — they are highly visible," he said. "They are strategically placed around our school, and students can see them right away."

The district uses the "Stop It" app, which allows students to report concerns anonymously. It can be found on the MLSD website.

Mason was accompanied by Brodi, the therapy dog that he brought to CMS about six years ago. Many CMS students know Brodi better than they know him, Mason said.

"It's so fun, not to hear my name, ever," he said. "Really, I think it would be great to have a dog in every school."

Cardwell said she is working on bringing a therapy dog to Midway, but that a lack of clarity in district policies makes that more of a challenge.

"Clear-cut policies and expectations would be fabulous," she said.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at cschweizer@columbiabasinherald.com.