Annual school safety conference includes students for first time

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OSAGE BEACH - The Missouri Safe Schools and Colleges Conference began pre-session workshops on Tuesday morning, but this had some changes compared to years past.

In effort to help schools find solutions to things such as cyber bullying, sexual harassment and school violence, the Missouri Center for Education in cooperation with Missouri School Boards' Association has decided to include students that have witnessed these issues first hand. 

The conference is Tuesday through Thursday at Tan-Tar-A, Osage Beach.

Students from St. Louis Public School District, Excelsior Springs School District, Ft. Osage R-1 School District, and Miller County R-III School District will be speaking at the conference on Thursday about ways to succeed in creating a safer school environment. 

A guidance counselor from Tuscumbia Schools in the Miller County R-III District, Brittany Gaines, said her school has changed for the better in the past few years, and she gives credit to a group of students that started an anti-bullying program.

"I got a bunch of parent phone calls and I was like 'what can I do to change this?', you know, and until the students came to me and said 'can we help?'" Gaines said. "That's what made the change, because I really think that I would just be no different than other counselors and what they've done." 

Tuscumbia junior, Ashley Wyrick, and senior, John Sparrow, have been the leaders in this effort to end bullying and are very proud of what they have accomplished. They said in 2011 they collected surveys and found that 77 percent of students in Tuscumbia Schools felt they were being bullied. They have recently re-administered the survey and found a 47 percent decrease.

"Not only has this school been better and closer in a more friendly environment, but I feel like it brings everyone closer together where you've got a better relationship between our faculty and our students, and you've also got better relationships in the classroom," Wyrick said." "I feel like we can learn better if we don't have to worry about the bullying."

"We are a small school and we started this bullying campaign, we are gonna try and send it to other schools in the district and get the ideas out there," Sparrow said. "It's really working and the students like it, they like the activities they get to be involved in and it just makes me really proud."

The two say they try to create a positive environment. Sparrow said he gives all the younger kids high-fives everyday before class. Wyrick said she has been a part of focus-groups for girls to figure out any issues without having to involve adults.

The team has also started a spirit week for the school that promotes anti-bullying and anti-drug use. 

Sparrow and Wyrick said they are excited to share their success story with other Missouri schools. They hope their suggestions can make a difference.

There will be several other speakers as well as the students. 

This year will also be the first time "Active Shooter Training and Drill Development Workshop" will be offered.