Even before the state of Connecticut required schools to implement character building programs, Masuk High School students and staff were delivering anti-bullying messages.
Last year, sophomore Becky Ochsendor founded A Little Love in Every Situation (ALLIES), a club that denounces bullying and negative behaviors. A second club, called Students Against Internet Discrimination (SAID), encouraged online tolerance and acceptance.
The two clubs merged, and its 10 or so members now refer to the overall group as ALLIES. Their first event will be a performance this April by Cary Trivanovich, an entertainer who specializes in delivering insightful messages to young people through comedy.
Entertainer with a message
Monroe eighth and ninth grade students will attend “Choose Character Over Bullying,” a program funded in part by a $500 mini-grant from Alcohol and Drug Awareness of Monroe (ADAM).
Dana Firmender, ALLIES faculty adviser and an English teacher at Masuk, said club members recently held a Valentine’s Day gift basket raffle to help raise funds to pay for the performance. Prizes included a gift certificate to Peachwave, Bella Rosa restaurant and Bow Tie Cinemas.
Although the program is costly, Firmender heard positive feedback from other high schools who have booked Trivanovich. “Our goal is to help the eighth graders feel comfortable about coming to Masuk next year,” Firmender said. “He’s a great entertainer and really reaches out to kids.”
Members of ALLIES said they would like the audience to walk away with information about how they could add to Masuk’s positive school climate and build strong, healthy peer relationships. Firmender said that information about various school resources, such as counseling services, will be discussed.
Initially, the club planned the assembly for Masuk’s student body. However, after much discussion, club members felt younger students were more vulnerable to bullying behaviors.
By the time students are in 11th and 12th grades, they’ve usually carved out a niche for themselves at Masuk. “They’re already joined clubs and they have their own group of friends,” said junior Sean Nossek, an ALLIES member.
Becky said she first approached Firmender about starting ALLIES last year because she witnessed “some bullying in the hallways.”
“I heard some comments that indicated that freshmen and sophomores weren’t welcome here,” she said.
Although these behaviors might not be widespread, adults aren’t always aware they exist, according to students.
Becky’s aim in forming ALLIES was to create a safe place where students who faced these challenges can go.
“I hated freshman year,” said ALLIES member Jordan Nossek, who is Sean’s twin sister.
When the Nossek twins began their freshman year, an older sibling already was in attendance at Masuk. Club members agreed that knowing upperclassmen was helpful in alleviating their jitters about transitioning from middle school to high school.
‘A lot of judging’
Even with an older sister on campus, though, both Sean and Jordan felt a bit intimidated at Masuk. “There’s a lot of judging going on,” Sean said.
Sara Bestrom, a junior, agreed. “People don’t give other people a chance,” Sara said.
Nicole Franco, also a junior, pointed out that certain cliques aren’t open to accepting new group members. “They have their own set group, and that’s it,” she said.
To ensure the comedic presentation’s success, ALLIES plans to follow up the program with activities at Jockey Hollow Middle School and the STEM Academy for eighth grade students and with an advisory period for Masuk ninth graders.
One of the changes Sean would like to implement is a peer-to-peer buddy system. “Is there a way people who are having a hard time could reach out to another student?” he asked during a brainstorming session at a recent ALLIES meeting. “I think we should find a way for kids to have someone at school to talk to.”
Firmender hopes the character building program will augment this year’s Fresh Fest, an orientation program held in August for incoming freshman students.
To make a donation to ALLIES and support Masuk’s positive school climate, call Firmender at 203-452-5823.