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  • 21 Dec 2014

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Student group launches anti-bullying effort

Hillsboro has a group of very dedicated and dynamic young citizens. They can’t yet vote, but they are making a difference.

They are the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC), a group of 30 high school students whose mission it is to be the voice of youth in city government. They represent all four high schools in the city, plus one student who attends Catlin Gabel, a private school in Portland, under the direction of advisor Kristi Wilson.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: KATHY FULLER - Left to right, Ashwin Datta, Shirley Araiza, Lorena Colcer, Anisha Datta and Jonathan Napier, all students at Glencoe High School, are members of the Mayors Youth Advisory Council. They hold posters the YAC designed as a part of an anti-bullying campaign for the Hillsboro School District.

YAC students helped organize the very successful Holly Days celebration, a community event held in late November 2013 to kick off the holiday season. They also organized the Youth Invasion last October, a day-long opportunity for students to learn about careers in city government while earning their high school career credit. The event drew about 200 pupils, Wilson said.

The YAC recently unveiled its latest project to members of the Hillsboro School Board: a 30-second video that is the core of an anti-bullying/anti-harassment campaign geared toward middle and high school students. The project came at the request of the Hillsboro School District.

The whole process, said Casey Waletich, the district’s director of safety and operations, began a year and a half ago. The district held several workshops with students that asked the question, “If you were in charge, what would you do to promote a more welcoming culture … in your school?” Waletich explained. “We know that the best model is a student-led effort to promote a change of culture.

“Last August, we were at a crossroads. Do we select a random group of students or find an existing group?”

Waletich asked the YAC to create a campaign that will be used first in the high schools and will eventually “filter down to the middle and elementary schools,” he said.

The students eagerly agreed and began work on the campaign last November, with the guidance of Wilson and Lines for Life, a Portland nonprofit that works to prevent suicide, substance abuse and bullying.

“I don’t think she had any idea what she was getting into,” Waletich said of Wilson, who has been the YAC advisor for two years.

“I love it,” Wilson said. “After working with these kids, I have hope. They all have a strong desire to help their community, improve it, make a difference.”

The students themselves didn’t quite know what they were getting into when they took the project on.

“They left it pretty open-ended,” said YAC member Anisha Datta, a senior at Glencoe High School. “YAC is diverse. Everyone had diverse experiences and brought diverse talents.”

First, the group attended a series of workshops led by Emily Moser from Lines for Life. Then they met together in “two very long meetings. We made no progress,” said Glencoe senior Lorena Colcer.

“We did engage in in-depth discussions. We came away with an awareness that this (bullying) is a real problem,” said Shirley Araiza, a Glencoe junior.

What they came up with was a different sort of message. “We wanted to get rid of the cliché and focus on the message,” Araiza said.

Never in the video or on the posters the group designed is the word “bully” used. “We’ve been exposed to that all through school,” Araiza said. Students hear the message “don’t be a bully” all the time. “They become immune to it,” she said.

Instead, they posed a question to their audience to make them consider: “What kind of a friend are you?”

“You can be put down, even by friends and acquaintances. The people closest to you are the ones you take most seriously — their words can hurt the most,” Datta said.

The teens hope they have created not only something that will strike a chord with their peers, but also be a sustainable message that carries on through life, not just at school.

YAC members will unveil the public service announcement video, “Labeled,” at a “red carpet event” at the Hillsboro Civic Center May 13. From there, they’ll plan a launch of the campaign at the high schools.

The school district, said Waletich, sees the project as a three- to five-year process. “Our plan is to establish a baseline message,” which he thinks the YAC students have done well. Other anti-bullying efforts currently happening at individual high schools — Liberty has joined forces with “Rachel’s Challenge” — will continue, he said.

“It’s an ever-changing process. We’re not just going to throw up a bunch of posters” in the school hallways, said Waletich.