Grant changed lives at Kingman High, but funds going away

Students at Kingman High School gather around a giant hand symbolizing the challenge “Take a stand, lend a hand” and attach sticky notes with their commitment to stop bullying. Some of the notes read “Respect,” “Speak up and help them,” “Pray,” “Don’t be a bystander,” “Help” and “Tell someone.” (Courtesy)

Students at Kingman High School gather around a giant hand symbolizing the challenge “Take a stand, lend a hand” and attach sticky notes with their commitment to stop bullying. Some of the notes read “Respect,” “Speak up and help them,” “Pray,” “Don’t be a bystander,” “Help” and “Tell someone.” (Courtesy)

KINGMAN - If Kingman High School hadn't received a federal Safe and Supportive Schools grant four years ago, senior Denise Andres wouldn't have had the opportunity last week to apologize for being a bully.

Andres, 17, was so touched by an anti-bullying assembly Thursday at KHS that she opened up during discussion in her fourth-hour class and not only said she was sorry, but even hugged one of her victims. Andres has had a history of bullying since she was in middle school.

"I was a bully, and I swallowed my pride and told those I had bullied that I was sorry for making them feel bad," said Andres, noting the testimonies read at the assembly made her cry. "Instead of knocking each other down and using names like fat, nerd or even worse, we need to help each other. Words do have power and they can really can hurt."

The assembly was part of a month-long anti-bullying campaign at KHS funded by the grant, which provides a variety of programs for students. Administered by the Arizona Department of Education, it gives the school about $160,000 annually to create a safe and supportive environment for those who attend.

What it does

The grant, given to only six schools in Arizona, is being phased out by the federal government this year and will not be available after that.

It currently underwrites the school's IBARK program, teen Addictions Anonymous counselors, student support groups and supplies, Link Crew activities, Spring Showcase and the Check-in, Check-out program.

"These are important programs that help students and create a better culture at KHS," said Shelly Moon, campus coordinator for the grant. "Our discipline referrals are down 30 to 80 percent over two years ago because of these programs.

"The school will run without them, but not as smoothly. We're really making a positive impact."

IBARK, which stands for "Inspire to be: Brave, Accountable, Respectful and Kind," rewards students for the good deeds they do. Link Crew enlists upperclassmen to mentor freshmen with academic and social development throughout the year, as well as reduce bullying incidents by providing a listening ear.

KHS provides 11 support groups for 180 students on topics such as death, addictions, coping skills, art therapy, graduation and dealing with family members' chronic illnesses. Check-in, Check-out is a daily mentoring program for at-risk students that keeps them accountable while helping with issues that make them act out.

Funding is gone

Moon approached the KUSD school board earlier this month to share the programs' successes - and let board members know that the grant will be ending this year and new funding will be needed for programs and staff.

Board members listened intently and congratulated Moon on the positive results, but made no commitments.

Moon said IBARK rewards are up more than 15 percent this year, from 2,772 last year to 850 just from August through October this year. During the 2013-14 school year, discipline referrals averaged 34 a week. This year, there were nine referrals a week in August and 16 referrals a week in September.

Currently, there are three Link Crew coordinators, 15 support group facilitators and two coordinators. Other grants are actively being sought for the programs, said Moon, as well as monetary donations from the community.

"We're doing our best to get the money to replace the grant," said Moon. "We have the support of both the administration and the school board. They love what we're doing and they see the improvement, but it all comes down to the budget."

Lara Iozzo, 17, a senior and Link Crew member, said being in the Link program has changed her life.

Iozzo, who is part of a group teaching other students about bullying, said it makes her feel good when she can help students who have been bullied because she experienced it in middle school.

"I've told the students they can talk to me anytime about it," said Iozzo. "I've told them they shouldn't hide their feelings, and that they should tell someone about their problem so it doesn't get out of hand. It makes me feel happy that they trust me enough to talk to me."