Natalia Quizena knows what it feels like to be bullied, so she takes her job as a Hallway Hero very seriously. “It hurts,” says Natalia, a fifth-grader at Zinser Elementary in Kenowa Hills. “You can’t learn, because you’re focused on that one thing the person said or did to you.”
She is one of 15 fifth-graders appointed this year to monitor bullying at Zinser. Sporting Superman-style T-shirts, they keep an eye on problems and report to the teachers or principal.
They also may intervene to calm conflicts among younger children and are expected to demonstrate good behavior. “Our job is to stop bullying,” Natalia says. “We’re like aides to kids. We can see things the same way they see things.”
Principal Ross Willick started the Hallway Heroes program last year to help track what goes on in school by giving him extra eyes and ears. He encourages students to drop notes in his mailbox reporting bad behavior.
“It’s an avenue for kids to feel like they have a voice,” Willick says. “Every time we have a situation, I can tell a kid, ‘I’ve got a lot of kids looking out for each other. People saw what you did.’ ”
Firing Up by Pawsand Police
Zinser recently held an assembly to promote its anti-bullying efforts. The big hit for the students was Paws, the playful Detroit Tigers mascot. But Sgt. Yvonne Brantley of the Michigan State Police got their attention with a no-nonsense pep talk.
“When I was your age, I was bullied every day for seven years,” Brantley told about 150 third- through fifth-graders. “I did not have a voice. I became a police officer to make sure folks like you have a voice.”
The program, called “Stand Tall With the Tigers,” which is separate from Zinser’s Hallway Heroes initiative, was a joint effort of the State Police and the Detroit Tigers Foundation and sponsored by Subway restaurants. It included a video message from Tigers pitcher Doug Fister and a presentation by Ron Thebo, Subway board chairman for West Michigan. Thebo encouraged students to enter a statewide contest for a $1,000 grant that will be given to the school that produces a winning essay, video or poster about bullying.
Hallway Heroes were chosen based on their personal behavior and essays they wrote applying to be a “hero.” Kaitlin Riley’s essay showed understanding of the factors that can cause students to bully others.
“(T)he bully might have just had a hard time like their great aunt passing away,” Kaitlin wrote. “They could have been at another school and had been picked on. They might not know what they’re doing but it still hurts.”
Brandyn Heugel, a Walker Police officer and parent of a Zinser student, attended the assembly to learn more about the program. She said she has seen the tragic results of bullying in her work, including a 14-year-old boy convicted of a serious crime.
“He had been bullied his whole life,” Heugel says. “It just broke my heart. I always wondered what would have happened if one kid would have stepped up or sat by him at lunch.”