A special project involving area middle school students aims to help them mitigate areas where they feel unsafe and end bullying behaviors. Bright Future Foundation’s EmpowerMENt Program is working with students at Berry Creek Middle School and Eagle County Charter Academy on a best practice bullying prevention.
The project is called Hot Spot Mapping, and addresses the physical space within and around school buildings by focusing on areas where students feel there is greater potential for bullying or other aggressive behaviors.
Students are asked to think about the day-to-day environment within the school, how they interact with one another, and also about areas where they usually feel unsafe. For example, the bathroom may be identified as an unsafe space because they often hear or see things happening in there that makes them uncomfortable. Students then color code a map of their schools identifying areas where they feel most unsafe or safe.
“Some areas are perceived as unsafe because of supervision difficulties, or maybe it’s a space tucked away in a corner of the building,” said Mike Santambrogio, Bright Future’s EmpowerMENt Program manager. “Students may also identify the soccer field or playground as an unsafe space because of teasing or aggressive behaviors. These can be tough areas to regulate due there size and variability.”
Once the students have coded their maps, Bright Future staff tally the students’ responses and create a master map demonstrating which areas trend as feeling unsafe. Students then engage in a discussion around why these areas may be considered unsafe, such as the underlying qualities that make these areas more prone to bullying/violence. The students work to identify these qualities and then engage in a discussion around potential ways to change unsafe spaces to safe spaces.
Students’ ideas will be recorded and presented to school staff to begin a discussion around perceived unsafe areas and ways to intervene. The goal is to engage students and staff in a discussion, enabling them to work together to create an environment where students can be themselves and be free from bullying/violence within the school building.
“The project can identify potential problem areas and provide suggestions, but the devil is in the details on what suggestions could actually be put into place,” added Santambrogio. “At the end of the day, by having these conversations we are creating an awareness and ownership among the students, and with our continued efforts we hope to see the students take charge in as many areas as possible to keep their schools safe.”
The middle school students will have the opportunity to teach as well. Once their maps are completed, they will then lead elementary school students on a similar project. Berry Creek students will lead fourth graders at June Creek Elementary, Eagle County Charter middle school students will work with fifth and sixth grade students within their school.
“Giving the students this type of opportunity is considered a best practice in the world of Positive Youth Development,” said Santambrogio. “This project will provide eye-opening learning opportunities, strengthen leadership abilities, and will continue to fortify peer relationships in an effort to maintain a culture of inclusivity, acceptance, and respect for one another.”
The EmpowerMENt Program is one of Bright Future’s youth violence prevention programs conducted within Eagle County schools. Young men are encouraged not merely to be passive bystanders, but to play an active leadership role in reducing gender violence, harassment, abuse, and bullying.