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Rachel Ochoa-Tafoya (school counselor and SSA program
adviser), Sabrina Giron (7th grader), Michelle Armijo
(instructional math coach and SSA family group facilitator).

When Ernie Pyle Middle School 7th grader Sabrina Giron hears or sees bullying, she knows exactly what to do. If a friend puts someone down, she counteracts it with something positive. If she hears about a fight, she brings in a teacher to help.

Giron is one of 57 Safe Schools Ambassadors at Ernie Pyle in Albuquerque. She has been an ambassador since the program started late last school year. "There have been less fights this year than last year. A lot of people are more friendly to each other when they are walking down the hall," says Giron.

Building Anti-Bullying Skills

Funded by the Safe Schools/Healthy Students initiative, the Safe Schools Ambassadors program gives students skills for dealing with bullying among their peers. "It's very practical. It's very hands-on and it's very immediate. That's what I like about it," says Ernie Pyle counselor Rachel Ochoa-Tafoya.

Ambassadors go through an intensive two-day training full of role-playing and practicing the skills necessary to intervene in all types of bullying situations. Those situations can range from the passing of rumors to the exclusion of others to verbal put-downs.

Strategies for Success

The ambassadors are already having an impact on the school."I do see a difference. Sometimes, I will see them intervene or use one of the strategies that we've shown them. They are trying to be more positive with each other," says Michelle Armijo, instructional math coach and an ambassadors family group leader.

Armijo is just one of many teachers who have stepped up to guide groups of ambassadors in regular meetings throughout the year. "The teachers are the ones who make it happen. It's all volunteer and a lot of them give up their lunch time or after school. I appreciate that so much," says Ochoa-Tafoya.

A School Comes Together

It takes the support of the whole school family to make a program like Safe Schools Ambassadors a success. Principal James Lujan has put his enthusiasm into the project. "The success that I've seen is the high self-esteem that it's built within the kids. They are proud to be in the program," he says. "I truly believe that Safe Schools Ambassadors is one huge factor in reducing our disciplinary referrals."

Lujan plans to integrate the ambassadors into the fabric of the school. "What I see in the future is taking the Safe Schools Ambassadors philosophy and weaving it with our school community philosophy," he says. "If you attend Ernie Pyle, you will be part of a school ambassador family."

The Safe Schools Ambassadors program will expand to three more middle schools in the district this year. Giron has advice for the new ambassadors that are coming on board. "Always stay confident with what you are doing. If you don't feel confident about standing up to a bully, go talk to a teacher," she says.

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