Three years ago, after the Minooka Community High School administration brought Rachel's Challenge to the school, a group of students were so moved that they started their own group with an effort to make students be respectful of one another. What they created was Students Taking a New Direction or S.T.A.N.D. Since its inception, the club has grown to 75 members and for the past two years, have put on a yearly anti-bullying production. Last year, the production was limited to a school audience. This year, S.T.A.N.D. students presented the show to the community.
School social worker Julia Nickel is the advisor for the club and she said the culture of the school is a tolerant one.
"The junior/senior campus, they're very tolerant and there's very little negative things that are said over here," Nickel said.
Nickel has been the social worker for the school for 14 years. In that time, she has seen the ways in which bullying takes place shift significantly. Today, students can be bullied virtually and never even see their bully. They can sign into social network sites like Facebook or Twitter and find out that someone is making fun of them and has been for hours before they found out.
Nickel said today's students have grown to the point where virtual bullying is something they dismiss, but Nickel said she does not allow that to happen.
"It has to be talked about; you can't just bury it," she said. "My big thing is let's talk; talking and working through an issue always seems to solve the problem."
The students in S.T.A.N.D. meet once a week and they organize other events in addition to the yearly anti-bullying production. In the fall, students held a fundraiser, where they raise money for the club t-shirts and make donations to community organizations, including St. Baldrick's.
In addition to giving back and encouraging students to do the right thing, when something goes wrong, students will come forward to find a solution. Minooka Community High School has an active peer mediation group that gets involved in bullying situations when they do happen.
"We're talking about teenagers here and we're talking about teenagers who make mistakes," Nickel said.
She does not want the students to dwell on the mistake. Rather, she wants them to talk about it and move forward.
Stay tuned to Patch in the coming weeks for a story about the Minooka Community High School peer mediation program.