INDEPENDENCE -- Because of dedicated middle school students, the Monmouth and Independence communities are becoming a safer place.
Seventh- and eighth-graders at Talmadge Middle School are gearing up for training. As part of the violence prevention program "Hands and Words are Not for Hurting," the students are trained in prevention education and sent to kindergarten classes at local elementary schools to teach younger children to prevent violence.
"They teach (kindergartners) how to feel good about themselves," Talmadge leadership teacher Kelly Cutsforth said. "We feel like the (middle school students) need to experience the mentoring role."
The Hands project is designed to educate each person in every community of his or her moral and legal right to live free of abuse, according to www.gwired.gwu.edu.
The program debuted at Talmadge Middle School with four eighth-graders last year. Cutsforth said the program was in place at the school she previously taught at in Amity, and saw a transformation in how students treated one another after it had been running for five years.
She said she saw the need for the program in the Central School District and offered the opportunity to students in her leadership class. Four girls -- Dana McLean, Analaura Lugo, Kimberley Alejandrez and Toni Humphrey -- jumped at the chance to participate, Cutsforth said.
"We thought it would be fun to do because we like little kids," Humphrey said.
Cutsforth trained the four girls on how to teach the material and last spring the girls taught kindergarten classes at Henry Hill Elementary through skits and stories. Lessons included how to stay safe, what behavior is acceptable, where to find help, and take a pledge to use their words and hands appropriately. One of the girls even translated the lessons into Spanish for the kindergartners.
The group of four taught twice a month at Henry Hill for about 45 minutes each time. They sang songs, helped the kids draw pictures, make puppets and provided ears to listen.
Humphrey said she was surprised what the kindergarteners told her about problems at home, and was happy she could help.
"I think we had a good impact on them," Humphrey said. "There's a lot that can be done with little kids now. A lot of people can make a difference if they speak out about it."
The program also received a $500 grant to help pay for teaching supplies.
Cutsforth is continuing the project again this year with about 20 middle school students. They will soon begin learning how to teach the lessons and will be visiting schools in teams of two from January through May at Henry Hill and Ash Creek Elementary.
However, Cutsforth said even though the middle school students are teaching others, they are also learning to be more respectful to others themselves.
"Once you get seventh- and eighth-graders making the pledge, they talk the talk and walk the walk," Cutsforth said.