U-M athletes encourage AAPS students to ‘Block Out Bullying’

U-M water polo players Emily Senja and Barbara Lanier lead a group activity with Michele Wilkins’ fourth grade class from Pattengill at “Block Out Bullying.”

By Tara Cavanaugh

Bullying affects everyone –– even college-level athletes.

That lesson and many more were highlighted at “Block Out Bullying,” an event sponsored by the University of Michigan volleyball team Sept. 14. More than 1200 elementary students from the Ann Arbor Public Schools and Dexter attended.

“Everybody knows the impact that bullying has,” said Whitney Turver, assistant director of marketing and promotions for U-M athletics. “So we wanted to bring the student athletes in to let the kids know that everybody gets bullied. From the coolest kid to the least popular kid, it’s everywhere, and even the smallest thing someone says can really hurt.”

The Dexter students and Ann Arbor students from Pattengill, Eberwhite and Ann Arbor Open participated in group activities with 75 U-M athletes from 29 different teams at the Oosterban Field House. The sports stars shared their own tales of bullying in childhood, and encouraged students to write down a hurtful name they had been called on a piece of paper.

Then the athletes helped the students fold up the papers into planes, and “fly” those hurt feelings away.

Water polo player Audrey Pratt helps a Pattengill third grader fold a paper plane.

Turver said having the athletes send the message might resonate with the kids better than if it came from adults. “We thought with the athletes, it might have some more pull,” she said. “The kids look up to them.”

The students were also treated to a video of the volleyball team. In the video, the players share the names they were called, and they encourage students to stand up against bullying and to help make a change in their school climate.

“We’re hoping to stop the bullying cycle,” head volleyball coach Mark Rosen said to the students. “We want to help you understand that it’s OK to do something in that situation –– to step in or to tell a grownup.”

After the activities, students saw the U-M volleyball team play against Eastern Michigan University. From the experience of being at a U-M athletic event to meeting the athletes, it was an exciting day for the students.

“It gave them an opportunity to really be excited –– not just about being on a field trip and seeing an athletic event, but they really were getting the message about anti-bullying,” said Pattengill Principal Ché Carter.

The activities were a great way to connect with current curriculum, Carter added. “This activity, on top of Positive Behavior Intervention Support work, reinforces that anti-bullying message.” The PBIS program is used in all the elementary schools, and it encourages positive behaviors in the building and between students.

Javon Moore, a coordinator with U-M’s office of community engagement, helped organize the event. He said that addressing bullying is particularly important in the age of social media, where bullying can take place online after the school day is over.

“We hope students can learn from our athletes that they’ve made it this far, that bullying does pass,” Moore said. “And we wanted to be able to help the next generation avoid what we all dealt with as kids.”

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