Photo courtesy Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette
“Be someone’s hero.”
That was the message Cedar Rapids police officers and Cedar Rapids RoughRiders hockey players carried Wednesday morning at LaSalle Middle School during the rollout of a new anti-bullying program.
The police department and RoughRiders have teamed up to take on bullying in local schools with a new school program called “Every Goal Matters.” The program focuses on promoting leadership and kindness, and encourages students to intervene or say something when they see a classmate being bullied.
Community outreach officer Shannon Sampson said the police department worked with students from LaSalle Middle School and Prairie Point Middle School to develop the program.
“We talked to them about what they were seeing in their schools and their own experiences with bullying and used that information when developing this program,” she said.
During the program, Sampson discussed what bullying is and how to recognize when someone is being bullied.
“Bullying is engaging in behavior that aims to embarrass, shame or harm another person,” she said. “And there are many different types of bullying. It can be social, like spreading rumors, leaving someone out or telling people not to be friends with that person. There’s verbal bullying which involves name calling or teasing. And there’s physical bullying which would refer to beating someone up or harming someone.”
One in five students in the United States reports being bullied, she said, adding that 3.2 million students are bullied each year. As a result, Sampson said, 160,000 students nationwide skip school every day because they fear being bullied.
More than half of bullying incidents stop when a peer intervenes, she said.
As part of the program, five RoughRiders team members — Chase Hamstad, Kyle Looft, Liam Walsh, Jason Polin and Max Sasson — shared some of their own experiences with bullying and talked about taking action to help those who might be bullied or ostracized.
Sasson shared a story from his elementary school days about a new student who had recently moved from Georgia.
“Kids teased him because he looked different and talked funny — he had that Southern accent,” he said. “One day I decided I was going to be friends with him, and 10 years later he’s one of my best friends.”
The message, he said, is that a little can go a long way.
“It’s the little things that can make a big difference,” he said. “If I hadn’t decided to be nice to that kid, he would be my best friend today.”
Hamstad talked about a friend who was bullied in school because he had a disability.
“Kids made fun of him because he was different, and no one would sit with him at lunch,” he said. “So I got a bunch of my buddies together and we decided to sit with him at lunchtime. It doesn’t take a lot to make things better for someone. We just have to help each other out.”
Walsh, Looft and Polin talked about stepping up to do what’s hard.
"It’s easier to ignore or avoid helping when you see someone being bullied," Walsh said. "It’s harder to intervene or say something or to include a kid who is being excluded."
Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, but it’s those little things — sitting with an ostracized student, speaking up when someone is being mistreated or showing kindness to a student who is struggling — that can make a big difference in someone’s life, they said.
“You never know what someone is going through,” Polin said. “They could be going through hard times at home or having problems in their family, and a small gesture can make a difference.”
Officer Sampson said the police department and the RoughRiders plan to continue the program, bringing it to other area schools, in the hopes that the message can bring an end to bullying in Cedar Rapids schools.
“I’m thrilled and excited,” Police Chief Wayne Jerman told the students Wednesday morning. “I think together, with the RoughRiders, all of you and this program, we can put an end to bullying in Cedar Rapids.”
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 17th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2018-19. The USHL had a record 45 players selected at the 2018 NHL Draft, more than any junior league in the world, and more than 400 players on team rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.