As one of the two schools taking part in teaming up with the Rams and the Army National Guard for a new program as part of the CHARACTERplus program, Fox High School is taking a stand against bullying and in the process working to create caring school communities and increase academic achievement.
This year, the Rams teamed with the National Guard, Fox High and St. Charles High to develop a new initiative with CHARACTERplus called “Project Leadership Task Force.”
At the heart of the new initiative was an emphasis on curtailing bullying, a problem that has long been present in just about any school in the country.
Fox High assistant principal Gina Buehner said the launch of the new program was a necessity.
“Unfortunately, bullying is an issue that all schools are facing and as a high school we try to take a proactive approach and work towards building empathetic relationships and acceptance among our students,” Buehner said.
Last Thursday saw the culmination of the program’s first go around with a special assembly at Fox that included the members of the leadership task force with an appearance from Rams left tackle
Saffold spent time speaking to the kids about looking out for one another while also sharing his own stories and experiences from high school. The easy going tackle provided an example of someone who reached the pinnacle of his profession while maintaining integrity.
“Given that a person who has reached the highest level of professional sports would take the time to come to our high school and spend that time speaking to our kids about real issues and needs clearly made a positive impression on them,” Buehner said.
Even more to the point, Saffold and Behlmann made it clear to the students in attendance that bullying comes with consequences.
“This is a great program as it teaches valuable life lessons,” Behlmann said. “It helps send the message that this is a problem that can be solved. Students and young adults need to realize the consequences of their actions. By educating the youth - you can prepare them for their future and how to handle themselves in certain situations. Just as the National Guard helps develop citizen-soldiers professionally - the program helps develop today's youth to think critically and make the right decisions.”
As part of the new initiative, the participating schools including Fox selected 24 students to be part of the aforementioned leadership task force.
The selected group then worked with an advisor on projects for presentation intended to benefit the rest of the school. The goal of those projects was to develop hands on leadership among a small group of students while introducing the concept of a Character Challenge to the rest of the student body.
Thursday’s appearance by Saffold and Behlmann was the culmination of that work. Each of the 24 students in the task force stood on the stage and took a pledge to stop bullying.
“The presence of Rodger captivated the audience's attention and kept the student body motivated throughout the presentation,” Behlmann said. “The students were excited to be there which in turn meant they were receptive to the message that was being delivered to them.”
This week, the students will gather in their respective classrooms for reflection and discussion about Saffold and Behlmann’s visit. But in the immediate interim, the reaction was quite good.
“So far the feedback has been 100 percent positive - both from the faculty and students alike,” Behlmann said. “I talk to the students on a regular basis and everyone I have spoken with liked the assembly and had only good things to say about it.”
The development of the task force project comes as part of a new partnership forged between the Rams and the National Guard in conjunction with CHARACTERplus. The anti-bullying campaign and task force idea was born from that relationship.
Now in its 375th year, the National Guard can be seen serving the community in a variety of ways through national disaster response, family programs, assisting local law enforcement in counter drug efforts and working with youth.
Some of the youth programs the local Missouri and southern Illinois chapters have been involved with include the high school games of the week, high school player development camps and the previously mentioned CHARACTERplus programs in partnership with the Rams and the NFL.
The National Guard promotes and exhibits the following fundamental values to soldiers and in each of their community programs: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.
For more than 13 years, the Rams have teamed with CHARACTERplus on a variety of initiatives intended to improve the camaraderie and attitude in area schools.
In that time, the Rams have given more than $150,000 that has gone toward character development training for more than 800 teachers and administrators, helped develop the Character Fitness program and helped the intended message reach more than 300,000 students in almost 80 schools.
“Working with CHARACTERplus has had a tremendous impact as our students have been able to collaborate and partner with wonderful people and resources,” Buehner said. “They have provided great support and a network of collaborative efforts to help us with our character education initiative.”