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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Crossing the line: Seminar tackles teen issues

Thursday, February 23, 2012

This poster expresses the feelings of Move 2 Stand organizers.
(T-G Photo by Tracy Simmons)
"If you feel physically unattractive, you don't like the person that you are, you don't feel loved ... cross the line," said Eric Johnson to a room full of middle school students last week.

Dozens of bright, attractive students -- both boys and girls -- crossed the blue line marked on the floor in the fellowship hall of First Baptist Church.

In a day-long seminar, students learned about the impact of bullying in schools, and were invited to take a lead role in changing the environments at their schools.

Words matter

"You have to understand, every word that comes out of your mouth is being processed by someone else," said Johnson, who serves as Associate Director of Urban and Suburban Services for Students Taking A Right Stand.

Based in Nashville, STARS exists to serve schools and communities by providing prevention, intervention and treatment services addressing bullying, substance abuse, violence, and social and emotional barriers to success.

The group presented Move 2 Stand, a seminar which focuses on eliminating bullying in schools, to a group of students from each of the county's middle schools. With high energy and break-out sessions the team leaders worked with the students in small groups and together.

'Cross the line'

Near the end of the session, Johnson placed the group on one side of the line while he asked a series of questions.

Students were challenged to cross the line, stand up and make a difference in their schools by being leaders.
(T-G Photo by Tracy Simmons)
"If you've ever bullied another student, cross the line," challenged Johnson.

For the large group who moved to the other side of the room, Johnson asked their reasons.

"It makes me feel like I fit in. Like I'm cool," said one.

Johnson reminded one student wearing his school athletic jersey that he is a role model to other students, "The thing about it, you can lead in a positive way if you choose to."

"Go to school, and go to that person you know is being bullied. Say, 'I'm going to protect you. No body is going to hurt you on my watch.' They don't want your pity, your sympathy. They just want your support."

Breaking the wall

"Eric Johnson and his other [team] did a great job of communicating to students the importance of respecting each other. He "broke down the walls" that middle school students put up to keep their true feelings/emotions hidden," said Robert Fraser, assistant principal at Harris Middle School.

HMS students were sharing their experience with friends and faculty the moment they returned from the conference. "I had several teachers, who did not attend, share with me stories of reconciliation that were taking place as a result of the event," said Fraser.

Students in the training will now serve as a core group to expand the lessons in their home school. "You not only have the power to change people, you have the power to heal. Change the climate. Make kids feel respected and safe," said Johnson.