By GAIL MAHOLICK

gmaholick@tnonline.com

Bullying has become a national pastime in schools, but Lehighton Area School District is working to reverse that deadly trend through the Safe Student Ambassador program. Lehighton was the first school district in the state of Pennsylvania to use the program.

Every day in the United States 160,000 students are absent because of bullying and every day 25,000 students are assaulted and that six out of 10 students witness the assault. This results in teachers and students being afraid and tense.

Students can't focus on learning. Students don't go to school because they are being bullied. Some students bring weapons to school. Schools lose funding because children are absent. Some students abuse drugs and alcohol because of bullying, some are depressed, have an eating disorder or do self-mutilation. Also bullying causes teachers to spend too much instruction time on discipline.

Both students and teachers have a lowered moral. Bullying is the third highest cause of teen suicide.

Lehighton has been using the Safe Schools Ambassadors for about a year now.

Through the training, Safe Schools Ambassadors learned the four basic parts of the Ambassador's jobs, to notice, think, act and follow through and the intervention steps: balancing, support, reasoning, distracting, directing and getting help.

The most effective way to reduce mistreatment is to change the social norms or behaviors that students accept, so that mistreatment becomes unacceptable.

For bullying to happen, there are three "players" in the bullying drama, students that are targets, aggressors and bystanders. The challenge is to get the 85 percent of bystanders to speak up.

Bystanders don't speak up because they fear becoming a target themselves or they don't know what to say or they don't want to make it worse. They feel that if they speak up they will lose social status or feel that no adults will listen or do anything to solve the problem.

This is where Safe School Ambassadors comes in.

Safe School Ambassadors are role models. They are the solution who can change the school. This school-centered approach focuses on student relationships with other students.

Up until now, students had two options, do nothing/say nothing or become a snitch.

Through the program, student learned they have another option.

The first job of a Safe School Ambassador is to notice mistreatment, then assess the situation and then intervene by stopping the mistreatment, which will prevent violence.

We applaud Lehighton School District for trying to put an end to bullying.