Students Can Make a Difference Through U Matter

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COLUMBIA - Students from Columbia's three middle schools spent Wednesday learning ways to resist bullying, drugs and alcohol through a program called U Matter.

Students listened to speakers who discussed the consequences of bullying. At the end of the day, students were selected to stay after school to participate in break-out sessions at Gentry Middle School. Those sessions further emphasized the importance of acceptance of one another and avoiding drugs and alcohol. The speakers related to the students by using examples from their personal lives. Those stories illustrated times when the speakers felt bullied, saw someone else being bullied, or knew friends who suffered consequences from drug and alcohol dependence.

Wendy Sheehan teaches a health class at Gentry Middle School. She said she teaches her students the importance of bully prevention. And she believes everyone has played a part in the bullying process at one point or another. 

"I have the philosophy that we've all probably been bullied, and we've all probably been the bully. So if we can, help (students) identify that 'wow, that's bullying, I didn't know I was doing that.,'" Sheehan said. 

Michelle Baumstark is the Community Relations Coordinator for Columbia Public Schools. She said students rely on other students' behaviors for examples. But she says in this case, it can have a positive impact. 

"Most kids are not making negative choices. Most kids are not bullying. Most kids are not smoking. Most kids are not using drugs. And so, we want kids to see that from their peers," she said.

U Matter is a program that teaches kids the importance of reducing bullying in schools and online, resisting drugs and alcohol, and learning about who they are as individuals. Michelle Baumstark, Community Relations Coordinator for Columbia Public Schools, said the emphasis on bullying comes from a reality many students face every day. She said with the advent of social media and cell phones, cyber bullying has become an issue as well. In an attempt to reduce those incidents, the U Matter program is teaching students how to recognize bullying and know how to prevent it. Baumstark said schools are noticing a reduction in bullying and an effort by students to prevent future incidences.