August 11, 2010
The Saratogian

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Middle school can be a tough place, but the 200 incoming sixth-graders who attended the D.A.R.E. All-Stars Camp at Maple Avenue Middle School will have a leg up on their peers come September.

About one-third of the incoming sixth-grade class will attend the camp this summer.

The camp, in its 10th year, offers several weekly sessions for former fifth-graders to become acquainted with life in the middle school and learn skills to help them through the transition. Camp also gives students from the district’s six public elementary schools a chance to meet one another before beginning classes together in September.

One of the highlights of this year’s camp is a new anti-bullying program created and run by two soon-to-be ninth graders. The “Get Up, Stand Up” program — which complements a club at the middle school by the same name — teaches students techniques to counter and avoid bullying.

“They’re so real, the kids can relate to them,” Camp Director Erin Lloyd said.

Bobby Griffin, 14, said they are skills he and his classmates could have used when they were in sixth grade.

“It’s how to prevent it for yourself and be a little more self-sufficient,” he said.

Griffin developed the “Get Up, Stand Up” curriculum after his football coach said he wanted to do something about bullying.

“A lot of bullying goes on in the locker room,” Griffin said. The message carries more weight coming from a fellow student rather than a parent or teacher, he said.

He said the program’s slogan is “by the kids, for the kids.”

Griffin and his friend, Kenny DeLoriea, 15, have put on the program, which includes skits, props and music, weekly at the camp. “The kids get really into it,” DeLoriea said.

A group of about 20 students shuffled into the gym Tuesday, and Griffin and DeLoriea began their program with a series of questions.

“How many of you have ever been bullied?” DeLoriea asked. A few hands went up.

“How many of you have ever seen bullying?” he continued. Nearly every hand was in the air.

The first technique they taught the students was how to “rescue” someone they see being bullied.

“(Bullies) steal positive energy,” Griffin said. The students learned through skits how to walk away from bullies, draw the attention of adults by reacting loudly, and report bullies to teachers or the principal in a variety of ways, including the online EdLine which students can log onto from home and file reports directly to the school’s principal.

Griffin said his own experience reporting a middle school bully did not go as planned and prompted him to talk to teachers and principals about how to better handle the situation.

Rather than call the victim and bully into the same room and make the bully apologize — which happened to Griffin when he was a student at Dorothy Nolan Elementary School and just led to more bullying — the boys promote a technique that allows the victim to avoid being known as a “tattletale.” The adult wouldn’t confront accused bullies until well after the victim has told their story, and would avoid saying the victim ratted them out.

“A bully’s number one fear is getting caught,” DeLoriea said.

The anti-bullying class fit into Tuesday’s theme at camp — life skills. Members of the Saratoga Springs Fire Department also taught students fire safety, and a representative from Cornell Cooperative Extension taught nutrition.

Each day of camp has a theme, such as arts or sports, designed to prepare students for the possibilities and challenges they’ll face in middle school. The program covers decision-making, “what it means to be a good citizen here at the middle school,” and “what type of reputation you want to have here,” Lloyd said. It also includes “homework” for parents, which asks them to review the day’s discussions. Many of those assignments give parents a jumping-off point to talk to their children about subjects like drinking, drugs and sex.

This is the last year the camp will have “D.A.R.E.” in its name, Lloyd said. In years past, the city’s former D.A.R.E. officer, Tony Straus, was on hand to work with students.

“Unfortunately, with the budgetary cuts and the program being cut, we’re just going to have to take the D.A.R.E. out of our name,” Lloyd said.

The camp is funded with money from the school district, the Prevention Council and an $85 camper fee.