DENVER — Bullying prevention grants made possible as a result of marijuana tax revenue are making an impact in schools, according to data provided by the Colorado Department of Education.
“With the bullying grant, we’ve been able to think outside the box, so instead of always doing things traditionally, we were able to take a unique approach,” said Amanda Stewart, principal at Lake Middle School in Denver.
Lake Middle School received $93,309 in Bullying Education Prevention Grant funding over the course of three school years, according the Department of Education.
According to Stewart, surveyed students reported a 26 percent decrease in being targeted for bullying and a 54 percent decrease in witnessing bullying since 2016.
Statewide, surveyed students who participated in programs created by the bullying prevention grant funding reported a 33 percent decrease in being targeted for bullying and a 17 percent decrease in witnessing bullying during the span of the grant.
According to the state, 71 schools and 34,423 students have been impacted by the grants. More than $6 million has been distributed to various districts since 2016.
“When I was in sixth grade, I used to see a lot of bullying happening,” said Anthony Aguilar, an eighth grader at Lake Middle School. “Now, everybody feels safe and like we support each other so much here.”
Stewart said some of the grant money was used to train Lake Middle School teachers on restorative techniques, so they could better teach students how to manage their own conflicts.
“It’s had a significant impact,” she said. “Being allowed to look through the lens of being restorative with kids allowed us to relook at all of our school-wide policies and how we engage with students when there is conflict. So that is a positive impact across the entire school and the student culture and the staff culture.”
Stewart said students work with each other to deescalate problems. Sometimes an eighth-grade student will help mediate conflicts between sixth graders.
She said new staff members who better reflect the student population have also helped administrators and teachers build trust with students.
Solana Diaz, an eighth grade student, said she feels better equipped now to step in and defend a bullying victim if she were to witness teasing.
“(In sixth grade), I just felt like I just didn’t know what to do because no one had ever taught me. We never talked about it. But now that we have a new staff and everything, I feel like I could go and tell somebody. Like, it’s a lot easier to tell,” she said.
Diaz said she remembered learning about a fight on campus almost every week during her sixth grade year at school. Now, she said, she rarely sees one. She said she could only remember about five this school year.
The school also launched a program to reward students who are good citizens. They are “knighted” with a ceremonial sword during a school assembly and have an opportunity to be rewarded with a special school jacket if their peers choose them for recognition.
“We constantly tell kids, ‘We love you. We’re a family, and sometimes families have to work through hard things to get better,’” said Stewart.