Rotarians Alan Evans and Veronica Russell are working to extend the reach of the Seaside School District’s bullying prevention program by taking it to the streets.

Seaside Rotary hands out dictionaries to every fourth-grader inscribed with their names, Russell said. “We help host the all-night grad party for seniors each year, we offer scholarships and we have the Rotary youth exchange.”

Rotary shares the organization’s “four-way test” with fifth-graders, guiding ethical principles of service and goodwill, she added.

The school district’s own bullying prevention program is regularly discussed at monthly assemblies, reminding students what to say and do should they witness someone being bullied, or if they are victims of bullying.

The school’s partnership with Rotary began at a Peace Builders brainstorming session earlier in the school year. Gaps in the anti-bullying program became apparent.

“The kids at school had the oversight of staff to help prevent bullying, but what about those kids walking to and from school, riding a bike to an event, or to a friend’s house on a weekend?” Russell said. “There was nothing in place to provide protection away from school, so we decided to look to our business community.”

This resulted in the creation of bully-free zones around town where shop owners could be on the lookout and where bullying would not tolerated. Russell said dozens of businesses expressed interest in helping out, so the Peace Builders committee created a simple set of rules and a window sticker. They reached out to Seaside Police Chief Dave Ham for feedback.

“School-age kids are our most vulnerable citizens,” Russell said. “We hope these safe zones offer a haven for kids for those in-between times when they’re not at school or at home.”

Nearly two dozen Seaside businesses including Beach Books, Oceanside Vacation Rentals, the Seaside Chamber, the Sunset Pool and Park, Seaside Coffee House and Ace Hardware, expressed interest in being Bully-Free zones.

“Our goal is to create a network of safe zones, but also to make all of Seaside a bully-free community,” Evans said.

Russell and Evans share something in common giving them the inside track on what it’s like to be bullied.

“We were both redheaded, freckle-faced kids growing up in the 1970s when there were no bullying prevention programs in place,” Russell said. “We were both bullied and know how that feels.”

Through their affiliation with Rotary, they knew they could do more. “We wanted to partner with the schools and find more concrete ways to work proactively on the problem,” Russell said. She said the school district stepped up their game, and at the beginning of the school year, Broadway Middle School began offering specialized training to staff, faculty, and community members through the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.

They worked most closely with John McAndrews, principal at Broadway Middle School, where bullying was most prevalent and “where we could make the biggest impact,” Russell said. “Alan and I attended school assemblies at Broadway Middle School and spoke at a recent assembly about what we were doing as Peace Builders from Seaside Rotary.”

Local businesses who wish to participate in the program can sign up through a form. “We’re currently signing up businesses and organizations and should soon have a list and a map of bully-free locations,” Russell said. “Typically they will be located in places where children go and the routes they take to and from school.”

She said the zones are meant to serve as places of temporary reprieve, where children can feel safe from being bullied. Through the Seaside Police Department’s tracking system, the department will be able to get a sense of who is being bullied, where it happens and who is doing the bullying.

For more information about the Bully-Free zones, contact Russell at veronicarussell@gmail.com or Evans at a.evans@helpinghandsreentry.org.

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