By Lillian Bowe
Lindsey-Steiner Elementary sixth-grader Paige Gard was tired of classmates making fun of her and being mean.
So, Gard joined Be a Friend First, or BFF, lunch group started by Tammy Hunton, counselor, and Tera Wong-Williams, the youth development specialist with Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails.
The group’s goal is to help girls develop friendship skills, learn what to do when being bullied or witness bullying, and gain self-awareness, skills Gard used to combat her issues.
This is the first year of the group, which was started in October and lasted 12 weeks. The group — comprised of 35 fifth-graders and 28 sixth-graders — met Thursdays during lunch.
“The girls in the group had so much fun learning about how to be a good friend, what is the difference between conflicts and bullying, and many other topics,” Hunton said.
Wong-Williams brought the idea of doing the group at Lindsey-Steiner after the Girl Scouts received a grant from United Way of Eastern New Mexico.
Hunton and Wong-Williams created several projects that the girls would work on, such as posters about bullying and bracelets.
“I loved the art projects,” sixth-grader Kylie Stenstrom said. “We made these really cool masks where the front had words describing what we thought people think about us and on the inside was what we think of ourselves.”
Hunton said the group was going to focus on friendship skills, but she found that bullying needed to be addressed at the school.
“I really wanted the group to build empathy in the girls because they witness bullying, but most of the time they just walk away and don’t contact an adult,” Hunton said.
Hunton taught the girls how to spot a bully and what to do when some is being bullied, or they are being bullied themselves.
Sixth-grader Annali Flores had to use her knowledge from BFF to handle a bully this year.
“I got bullied this year and I told an adult about it. As soon as they talked to the bully, it stopped,” Flores said.
Another part of the group that they created was buddy benches. Through donations from local business, Eastern New Mexico University student groups and individuals, BFF had enough money to buy two benches to place in the playground.
The benches are for anyone who wants to sit and talk to a friend. The girls of BFF will watch the benches and whoever sits down, the girls will sit with them.
“Sometimes the students have a bad day and just want someone to talk to and that is what the buddy benches will do,” Hunton said.
Hunton said she really loves the group and hopes to continue it next year.
“I saw a lot of kids get bullied last year and I wanted to know how to help them, and BFF taught me how,” fifth-grader Kinzie Davis said.