Youth Leadership Academy encourages area high school students to stand up against bullying

The crumpled, life-size paper silhouettes of people bore the hurtful phrases and sentiments of bullying — “moron,” “liar,” “dumb.”

But after high school students gathered at each table took out their markers and Post-It Notes, the array of mean comments was soon covered up with uplifting sentiments in bright yellow, like “Thanks for being you,” “kind,” “good friend” and “graceful.” The crumpled paper showed participants in the sixth annual Youth Leadership Academy how the effects of bullying can be lasting, and how kind words can heal. The event attracted between 20 and 30 students from high schools in Canton, Hannibal, Madison, Monroe City and Paris, on Friday, July 14, focusing on the 2017 theme of building lasting friendships and putting an end to bullying: “Don’t stand by. Stand up. Stand strong. Stand together.”

Cyndi Johns, Human Resources representative with Learning Opportunities/Quality Works Inc., said the theme of bullying came up a lot with the kids. She said the students have been enthusiastically participating throughout the day. Johns said an activity showing that toothpaste won’t go back into the tube served as a clear symbol that you can’t take back harmful comments once you say them. Throughout the day, friends from past events and new friends alike laughed and chatted together, playing disc golf and ladder toss after lunch. After the team activities, each student took a pledge to stand up against bullying and received a certificate. LOQW Employment Consultant Rhian Beldon said she noticed the students picking up critical skills during the day.

“I’ve seen a lot of students gain confidence — the ability to speak up and be confident to know who they should talk to if there is a problem,” Beldon said. “And really, it’s all about coming together while being a good friend and showing others how they can demonstrate that during their day-to-day lives.”

Coley Haycraft, Service Coordinator/Supervisor with County Connections, said she noticed many of the students making new friends as they engaged in the activities together.

“That’s what this is all about, if we’re going to prevent bullying, it’s having a go-to person and having a friend.” Participating students Lauren Pierceall and Hope Johnston agreed, noting they enjoyed getting the opportunity to talk with friends.

“It’s what makes it unique here for everybody else, to get to know new people around you,” she said. “And I think it’s a great idea to do.”

Pierceall said she will not be a bully to anyone. Her friend, Jacob Ford, chimed in about the timeliness of the Youth Leadership Academy’s theme for this year.

“I have to agree on that, bullying is a really serious topic,” he said. “I learned firsthand getting hit in the face.”

Ford said he didn’t do anything to provoke the attack, but he noted he didn’t fight back and escalate the situation. During the academy, he learned about contacting a friend he could trust if he witnessed bullying. For Kenneth Henthorn, the event reminded him the importance of being nice to one another and recognizing that bullying is a crucial issue in the United States today.

As she drove three teens from Paris to the event, County Connections Service Coordinator Judy Schulz said she discussed the topic of bullying. When she asked if they had been bullied in the past, one boy said yes, one said no, and the third boy did not say anything. During the academy, she said she felt happy as she watched the students interact with their new friends.

“We’re giving them information so they can help each other,” Schulz said. “This is a good day. I’m standing here like a proud mama.”

LOQW provides skills training and employment services throughout Northeast Missouri.

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com