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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hudson Memorial students win anti-bullying award for Ambassadors of Hope

Danielle Curtis

The group of students from Hudson Memorial School were so busy talking, they almost missed it: their names being called over a loudspeaker, followed by thousands of hands applauding.

Even when they realized that their school had been named, it was hard to believe. ...

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The group of students from Hudson Memorial School were so busy talking, they almost missed it: their names being called over a loudspeaker, followed by thousands of hands applauding.

Even when they realized that their school had been named, it was hard to believe.

“We were all really shocked,” said student Katherine Towle, 13. “We were just thinking there had been some kind of mistake.”

But there was no mistake: Hudson Memorial School’s Ambassadors of Hope, a student-driven anti-bullying program, was named a winner of the 2012 Stand Up awards, one of only three winners in a pool of more than 150 school nominees.

The awards were given out to groups in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island that have done work to end bullying at their schools. The students from Hudson Memorial received the honor at a daylong rally against bullying in Lowell, Mass, which featured various speakers who talked about their experiences with bullying.

“The entire club just went crazy,” said Ambassadors of Hope member Rachel Berson, 14. “It was a good feeling to win something like that, and know that we’ve helped kids with bullying.”

The Ambassadors of Hope program started at Alvirne High School a few years ago. But when Hudson Memorial guidance counselors Karen O’Brien and Mary Jo Howe were looking for a program to start at the middle school last year, they decided to work to start a similar program.

The group, made up of primarily of eighth-graders recommended by their teachers, works to raise awareness about bullying, how to stop the problem and how to report it in their school. They work through events, fundraisers and other campaigns during the school year.

The students involved – eighth-graders Alexyss Calhoun, Cara Layman, Skylar Forsyth, Katherine Towle, Rebecca Dopp, Rylee Mailloux, Rachel Berson, Zachary Polleck, Madison McClellan and Sarah Arnold – said they joined Ambassadors of Hope looking for a way to enact change in their school.

“I think bullying is a big problem in our school,” Towle said. “I see and hear things in the cafeteria, in the halls. Before, I felt kind of helpless, now I can do something to help.”

Her fellow students agreed and were eager to share the work that the program has done in the school.

Last year, the Ambassadors of Hope made a video about bullying that was shown to all teachers and available for students to view in the library and in their classrooms, Forsyth said.

The group also held an essay contest, in which students wrote about how to make Hudson Memorial School free of bullying. A door decoration and slogan contest got all classrooms involved in spreading the word about bullying.

The group also conducted a campaign to help make students aware how often bullying occurs in the United States: every seven minutes. To demonstrate that fact, they made “shadows” of students and placed a new one on the wall of the cafeteria every seven minutes for an entire school day.

“The shadows are still there,” Berson said. “There’s so many of them.”

This year, the group has even bigger plans, starting with a “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign to keep students from using derogatory language toward one another.

Ambassador of Hope member Cara Layman said the students plan on going through a whole school day without talking, to help bring awareness to this cause.

For O’Brien and Howe, as well as fellow club adviser Rochelle Megowan, a resource officer at the middle school, the students’ enthusiasm toward ending bullying has not only won them attention, it has earned them a better school community.

Howe said there is bullying at the school, as there is in any school, but that students are more aware of what to do when they see it, thanks to the Ambassadors of Hope.

“The tone of the school has changed,” O’Brien added.

Seeing the students involved in Ambassadors of Hope work in the school is inspiring not only for their fellow students, but for teachers and staff as well, Howe said.

“They’re not afraid to put themselves out there; they’re not shy about it,” she said. “They want people to know that bullying will not be tolerated at this school.”

The students said they’ve grown a lot, working with the club.

And even though they’re leaving the school next year to head to high school, they’re confident their work will carry on with the younger students.

“I feel like we really did make the school a better place,” said club member Zachary Polleck.

Danielle Curtis can be reached at 594-6557 or dcurtis@nashua
telegraph.com. Also follow Curtis on Twitter (Telegraph_DC).