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February 6, 2013

Diversity club aims to celebrate differences, fight bullying

CLINTON — Eagle Heights Elementary School students are embracing and celebrating their differences while fighting against bullying through the school's diversity club.

The club consists of fourth- and fifth-grade students who want to spread acceptance through their school and community.  

Eagle Heights counselor Lavina Engle started the club this year. Before embarking on the club creation, Engle found volumes of information on starting a diversity club for middle or high school students, but not much on the same concept for younger children. She wasn't fazed.

“I thought, ‘why don't I start a diversity club for elementary school? I have the resources,’” Engle said. “We can do that, we can do that for elementary school. I think it's easier because kids in elementary schools aren't as rigid in their thinking. They're not as afraid to ask questions about why people are different.”

Twenty-two students participate in the acceptance building organization that meets once a month.

“I wanted to join because the club shows that even though we're all different, we all have something in common,” 11-year-old fifth-grade student Ian Weltzin said during their monthly meeting on Tuesday.

The group right now is focused on creating an anti-bullying video as part of a districtwide push for all schools to create similar media.  

The diversity club students wrote three scripts depicting different instances of bullying during recess, lunch and at the bus stop.  

During their monthly meeting for February, students rotated turns as movie stars filming their skits. When they weren't filming, they were contemplating different instances where they had encountered bullying. Some students shared their experiences and words of wisdom with the group or with co-facilitator Margi Bengston. Altogether, they joined in a unified call to end bullying.  

“When we all stand together we can stop bullying,” the students chanted.  

Once the video is complete, it will be shared with the Clinton School Board. Engle also sees the video becoming a part of guidance lessons in school or new student orientation.

“Diversity club taught me a lot about bullying,” fifth-grader Bella Johnson, 10, said. “Now I feel I could stop bullying if I saw it.”

While they are focused on increasing awareness and tolerance within their own school and community, through previous projects they have delivered kindness and support to a Third World country.

The students hit the ground running in the beginning of the school year to make sure their landmark group had an  eventful year.

“They immediately wanted to have a bake sale,” Engle said.

First, though, they needed a cause to donate the proceeds of the bake sale. Engle said students chose their cause after reading the book "Beatrice's Goat," a story of an African girl whose family is momentously aided by a goat.  They decided to partner with Heifer International, a global nonprofit seeking to end hunger and poverty by providing livestock to those in need across the world. Students had their fund-raising goal set at $120, enough to buy one goat.  

The ambitious group had to make all of the goodies they wanted to sell at school. No homemade or store bought goods were allowed.

The bake sale raised $271, more than double what the club aimed to raise. With that money the industrious students were able to send two goats and a beehive through Heifer International.

“It was pretty cool to help and learn what's important to other cultures,” Jordan King, a 10-year-old fifth-grader said.

Engle was impressed not only with what the group accomplished, but also with the thought it gave the decision.

“It was Christmas time and my kids in my group were asking about whether it would be better to give a beehive or rabbits. What a different kind of cultural experience for them,” Engle said.

The club also participated in the community Peace Walk and plans to take a stand against racism with the YWCA this spring.  

“They are becoming advocates,” Engle said. “They are learning the most powerful way to stop bullying and that can make a huge difference.”

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