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Bully prevention program fills Century’s 8th hour

Words can hurt.  And bullying can leave lasting scars.   When Dana Kocka asked his 8th Hour class “Who thinks bullying is a huge problem?,” 100 percent of students raised their hands.  Have they witnessed bullying within the last week?  One hundred percent said “yes.”  8th Hour is a free, after-school program for fifth, sixth and seventh graders at Century Middle School.  

“Bullying is a huge problem within our world,” says Kocka, who teaches an anti-bullying program, called Second Step, to 8th Hour students.  “When people think of bullying, they often think of their adolescent years. Yet statistics tell us bullying occurs throughout all stage of life,” he said.  “It’s our goal to not only help prevent bullying from happening, but also provide our youth with the skills to communicate, cope and make better decisions.”  Employed through CHI St. Joseph’s Health, Kocka meets with 8th hour students once a week throughout the school year.  He’s also a youth minister at Calvary Lutheran Church.  

Kocka uses the Second Step program, a research-based middle school curriculum.  Presented through interactive lessons – games, group discussion and hands-on activities – Second Step aims to teach empathy, communication, emotion management and problem solving.  “I see this as an opportunity to help children, one child at a time,” Kocka said. “Teaching our children how to be a friend – and not a bystander that does nothing – can impact lives greatly.”  

Typically, the 8th Hour classroom is full, a maximum of 25 middle schoolers. It’s offered Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3:10 p.m. to 5:10 p.m.  The first part of the school year is spent building relationships and getting to know the kids, said 8th Hour Coordinator Karen Branstrom.  “We become almost like family,” she said.  Students enjoy a snack, finish homework and play games.  Through Second Step, kids learn to recognize and define bullying, identify strategies for dealing with bullies and cyberbullying and learn about the role of bystanders.  “Bullying isn’t what it was when we were kids,” Kocka said.  In this digital age, it’s much more pervasive.  Social media like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr allow bullies to be persistent beyond the school day – and even anonymous.  

Bullying can be overt and direct, like fighting, hitting or namecalling.  It can also be covert, such as gossiping or excluding someone on purpose. It can happen in person, online or through texts.  Bystanders who witness assaults, harassment or threats cannot remain silent.  Eighty percent of bullying stops when a bystander intervenes, Kocka said.  “I think it’s important to help our youth realize they can make a difference,” he added.  Last spring, 8th Hour students learned photography techniques and created an anti-bullying calendar with the help of PhotoVoice.   Based out of the Twin Cities, PhotoVoice encourages youth to advocate positive social change through photography.  Students learned how angles and lighting affect emotion and discussed possible images for the project.  “Our youth were sent out within the school and community with cameras to take pictures of ways that we can help prevent bullying,” Kocka said. “The creativity, depth and messages within the pictures were powerful.”  

All fifth through seventh grade teachers received a copy of the calendar.  Large canvas versions of the photos will be on display at school and community events.  To learn more about 8th Hour, call the Century Middle School office at 237-6300.