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Anti-bullying challenges making an impact in schools

Alanson Public Schools students pose in front of the large poster created with handprints from the full student body to represent their unity against bullying.

One day -- the 22nd of every month. One district -- Alanson Public Schools. One color -- orange.
These three things may seem disjointed but when put together you get a powerful movement toward bullying awareness.
Located in Emmet County in northern Michigan, Alanson Public Schools is a K-12 school with approximately 265 students. An idea that sparked from one educator in one district has now taken over a community  -- and gone beyond to neighboring communities.
It all started in October when Alanson Public Schools Title I Coordinator/Instructional Coach Lisa King was looking for a new twist to promote anti-bullying.
“In past years, I have been a part of teams that had presented amazing ideas to bring awareness to bullying and the damage it can do,” she said, adding that regardless of how great the ideas were, their effectiveness seemed to fizzle as the year progressed.
King’s quest brought her to a website that suggested people on Oct. 22 wear orange in recognition of October being Bullying Awareness Month -- orange, a color of unity in protest against bullying. A chance conversation with another community member brought forth the idea to sustain the movement by wearing orange every month on the 22nd, or a date close to that if school was not in session that day.
From there the idea of Orange Challenge was inspired by the Ice Bucket Challenge to support ALS.
“All that was well and good,” King said, “But then the wonderful community of [Alanson Public Schools] staff members really made it their own. Teachers were making pins, educating students in their classrooms and inspiring them to make changes in their behaviors.”
The district brought in speakers to talk about the impact of bullying, lessons were connected to curriculum and forums for discussion started to open. It became a goal of the school’s student council and National Honor Society.
“Kids were sharing ideas how to make a difference and even make things better,” King noted. “We even made a mural with everyone’s hands decorated by each individual student or staff member in representation of themselves pledging to unite against bullying.”
And then things really got kicked into gear. Superintendent Jeff Liedel took the Orange Challenge to the next level. With his own money he purchased orange shirts for all staff and board members. The educators started spreading the initiative throughout the community and even handed shirts to local business owners to encourage participation.
Liedel next challenged nearby Pellston Public Schools Superintendent Monique Dean to an “orange-off.”
“People were all over social media reminding one another to wear orange,” King said. “It was very exciting!”
On Nov. 21, both schools counted all the people in protest against bullying, dressed in orange, and Alanson came out on top.
Superintendent Dean and Pellston Public Schools challenged Alanson right back with an added challenge -- a volleyball game between staff. Students from Alanson Public Schools were bused to their neighboring district to the north to watch the game. Students in grades five through 12 from both districts went first to take part in a presentation geared to their age groups on the various kinds of bullying, effects on people and the various outcomes. After the 45 minute presentation, these students joined the kindergartners through fourth-grade students in a rally for their teacher teams. The orange energy was everywhere!
Since November, the challenge has grown. Alanson has challenged Cheboygan and Charlevoix, and has an ongoing challenge with Pellston. Pellston has challenged Boyne Falls and Mackinaw City, and has the ongoing challenge back with Alanson. So far, the challenge has crossed three county lines, involving schools in Emmet, Charlevoix and Cheboygan counties.
The remaining challenge days for the school year are Feb.20, March 20, April 22 and May 22. You can bet you’ll see a sea of orange around Alanson on those days. Alanson Public Schools has also challenged some local news teams and is even offering up some orange shirts. 
“Our hope is this continues to grow and more and more schools challenge each other. We’d love to see this continue and grow,” King said.

Click here for more information or to join the challenge, and here for link to a TV 7&4 interview about the Orange Challenge.
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