Kids within the Palm Springs Unified School District are already back in school and there's a continued effort at all grade levels to unite students and to sideline bullying.
Investigative reporter Karen Devine took a closer look at some of the programs in the local schools that are focusing on leadership and inclusion. She saw first hand how local kids are striving in middle and high school to become united and to become the "anti-bully". And, as Devine found out, it's making a difference.
"We basically created our own version of "Dude. Be Nice" inspired by the actual organization and we made a "kindness" week. And, that helped to create a better environment on campus," Jasmine Lopez/Sophomore, Cathedral City High School.
Devine sat down with four teens from Cathedral City High School who dedicate their time and creative ideas as a part of the associated student body or ASB program. Under the watch of an advisor, the group puts together activities on campus to help unite students and get kids involved in spreading positivity.
"We try to get as many people involved in each of these events during lunch or during the day, we have activities or an activity that goes through the entire day," says Bryan Lopez, Sophomore, Cathedral City High School
The "Dude. Be Nice" campaign is about helping to identify people at the school doing good things and recognizing them. Promoting empathy and compassion.
"It's really important because we all just need to be nice to eachother because you never know just how someone's day is going like behind the scenes so you just have to be as positive as can even if they don't recipricate that back," says Melanie Vazquez, Sophomore, Cathedral City High School.
Sophomore Bryan Lopez tells Devine they've seen a lot of student involvement since their event in the spring and he says, "Because students enjoyed it they decided to particpate more in our campus events."
He went on to say, "We've seen more people at our poster party, float parties, we know that they're enjoying it because of the feedback we see from it and because of what we see them do later throughout the year."
Promoting a positive culture and kindness among peers isn't just happening at the high school level, over at Raymond Cree Middle School they're really proud of their PLUS program which unites students who are having issues with each other.
PLUS stands for "Peer Leaders Uniting Students" it's a student led program where kids facilitate forums themselves. Initially they work to include incoming 6th graders so that they can have a voice and feel heard.
"We have two or 3 facilitators, which are 7th or 8th grade students who are trained and they get in small circles with a couple of kids and they just talk about the things they see on campus that bother them and things that they can do if they're witnessing them and more importantly our focus is on how to speak out, how to be an upstander," says Marisol Guerrero
Counselor Raymond Cree Middle School
"I was involved in 6th grade and it opened my eyes to bullying and being an upstander instead of a bystander and just standing up for people when they're getting bullied and not watching," says Elijah, 8th grader Raymond Cree Middle School.
Palm Springs Unified School District defines bullying this way:
"When an individual or a group of people with perceived power, repeatedly and intentionally cause hurt or harm to another person or group of people who feel helpless to respond. Bullying continues over time, is often hidden from adults and will probably continue if no action is taken."
And, according to the District, the four types of bullying that they are working to stop on their campuses are Physical, Verbal, Social and Cyber bullying.
"In 6th grade I got in a lot of fights and then after I got out of 6th grade I stopped getting into fights because of the programs," says David, 8th grader Raymond Cree Middle School
"It's another way to make the right choice of friends another way to surround yourself with people who you know are going to have your back and are able to give you good advice," says Solange, 8th grader Raymond Cree Middle School.
But, do these school programs decrease instances of bullying within Palm Springs Unified? According to statistics supplied by the District, in the 20-17-2018 school year there were 28 bullying suspensions. Last year, 20-18-2019 there were 23.
The numbers tend to be going in the right direction. But, the definition of bullying is broad and whether or not it warrants suspension is up to the District.
Nonetheless, one 7th grader tells Devine that after a PLUS forum she attended, she realized the effects of bullying could lead to suicide so she decided to make a change.
"I would just not be a nice person to them. I would like call them names and stuff because when I came to Raymond Cree, I got into the wrong crowd and basically because my friends were picking on some kids I started picking on them. I didn't want to be that person no more, it's not a good thing to do, you shouldn't bully," says Anahi, 7th grader Raymond Cree Middle School.
Anahi is now active in trying to bring awareness to others on the subject of bullying. She tells Devine that she and the girl she admittedly cyber bullied are now good friends.
All three school districts here in the Coachella Valley have similar anti-bully programs. Couselors on campus have the information.
More: I-Team investigations
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