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09/2009 Safe School Ambassador Program: An anti-violence & bullying prevention program

River Valley Counseling Center’s Teen Clinics, in cooperation with the Holyoke Public Schools is pleased to announce the expansion of the Safe School Ambassadors Program (SSA). The nationally known program is a research-based, anti-violence and bullying prevention program.  With funding from the Department of Public Health, the program was initially launched at Dean Technical High School in January 2009.  It will be implemented at two additional schools, Peck School and Holyoke High School, in November. RVCC’s Teen Clinics are pleased that the principals of these schools have welcomed this program and that the Holyoke School Committee is also supporting the effort.

The SSA program was developed in response to the tragedy that occurred at Columbine High School in 1999. The program is unique as it uses an “inside-out” approach. After the Columbine incident, educators, administrators and police departments acknowledged that increased security in schools across the country was not enough to address the problem. They determined that a youth-centered approach focusing on improving relationships among students was lacking.  The SSA program was developed to equip and empower youth to help prevent and stop mistreatment and cruelty among their peers.  It is based on the premise that students see, hear and know things that adults don’t.  Students witness situations where mistreatment occurs; adults often aren’t in the vicinity.  In addition, students can intervene in ways that adults can’t. Research shows that adults do not see up to 95% of incidents of mistreatment that occurs in school.

According to the SSA program administration, every day in the U.S. 160,000 students stay home from school because they are afraid of how they might be treated by their peers. The CDC (2007) reports that 36% of high school students reported being in a physical fight during the previous 12 months, and an estimated 30 % of 6-10th grade students reported being involved in bullying.

This program trains up to 40 students per school in the essential skills of recognizing mistreatment and effectively intervening within their own peer group.   Students who are chosen to attend the training have been identified as “opinion-leaders” among their peers. The expectation is that if these students respond to mistreatment in a safe and appropriate way, other students will model their behavior.  This spreads throughout the school, creating a ripple effect.  After attending the training, Dean student Miguel Guzman said, "It taught me how you can prevent something from happening before it happens.  I learned how to be a leader".  Zeila Quinones is another student participant explains how she has, ”…learned many ways to solve problems, stop problems, and ignore them in a safe way, with no one getting hurt. At the training, we met kids we didn't even know we went to the same school with...and now we're friends."

Several adults from each school have also volunteered to be trained as mentors for these students because mentoring is an important aspect of the program. These adults are known as family group facilitators (FGFs). Frequent regular scheduled meetings occur through out the school year to strengthen the skills learned during the training. Aileen Castillo, family group facilitator and secretary of the Teen Clinic based at Dean Tech. HS is very excited to participate and says,   "It is great to see the students learning to trust each other and new ways to communicate with each other."
For more information please see or contact Patti Mertes, at Dean Technical High School Teen Clinic 534-6904.