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When Kenzie Blake comes across people being bullied, she said her immediate response is to try to put an end to the situation.

“I don’t think it’s right to bully others,” said Kenzie, a six-grader at Columbus Middle School, noting she sees students getting bullied several times weekly.

And thanks to the eight-week 'Be a Friend First' (BFF) bully-prevention initiative sponsored by the Girl Scouts Spirit of Nebraska, Kenzie said she is better equipped to lend a helping hand should the occasion arise. The program was formed for middles school girls to benefit from in response to the large-scale bullying problem frequently seen.

This was the first year BFF was held at CMS. It worked on promoting building healthy relationships, recognizing and intervening in bullying situations and to be leaders of positive change. 

“Bullying is a huge problem in a lot of the schools across the state and the U.S.,” said Susan Nickels, program specialist for Girl Scouts Spirit of Nebraska, an organization consisting of 1.9 million girls and 800,000 adult volunteers working toward positive change.

At least 75 percent of the U.S. students reported that they experienced some form of bullying throughout their school years, according to the Nebraska Department of Education.

Because of these numbers, Nickels said it was important for the organization to further emphasize anti-bullying education, in addition to the school’s efforts.

Throughout the eight weeks, more than 50 fifth- and sixth-graders – who automatically became Girl Scout members upon completing the program –spent their lunch periods learning how to build self-confidence, stand up for themselves and others, to deal with cliques, to be a better friend and ways to resolve conflicts peacefully.

“I think it helps a lot, (especially) for those people who are getting bullied,” Kenzie said. “I think that they have the rights to have people stick up for them.”

The program came to an end on Thursday, and participating students said it gave them the confidence to combat the issue.

Sixth-grader Shaelynn Provance said she has also seen cases of bullying in her school. And just like Kenzie, she wants to help.

From the program, Provance said she learned that it’s important to reach out to students who have been sad to help pick them up emotionally. Provance said she plans to stand up to bullies and say, “Hey, (the victims) are just as much of a person as you are and don’t bully them.”

“It makes you feel stronger, and it’s just nice and it will help you be a better person,” she added.

Nickels said she was impressed with the different ideas students came up with. Instead of telling people not to bully, she said students thought it was more important to spread self-love and love for others.

Nickels hopes students will carry the skills they learned as they transition into different stages of life because bullying can occur at any time. 

“They have been spectacular,” said Nickels, adding she plans to include seventh-graders in the program during next school year. “It’s exciting to watch them grow.”

Natasya Ong is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at natasya.ong@lee.net.

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