It began with an assignment in a Childhood Education class. FLASH student Clara Olson was tasked with presenting to the class on the topic of anti-bullying. By the time she had thoroughly researched the subject, she knew that she needed to take her efforts beyond just an assignment.
“There was an anti-bullying campaign called ‘Spread the Word to End the Word’ in Forest Lake, but it hadn’t been active in about four years,” she said. “I knew that bullying was still a problem and I wanted to kick-start an effort to address it schoolwide.”
Shortly after Olson’s class presentation, the Forest Lake Times ran an article about race relations in the school. That piece, teamed with some words being exchanged regarding the upcoming presidential election, convinced Olson to take serious action. She teamed with fellow student Olivia Gadberry and together the two brainstormed what would eventually become an effort to encourage others to “Be An Upstander.”
“Being an upstander simply means standing up when you see something happening that isn’t right,” group adviser Cheryl Smoczyk said. “It could be a group situation where someone is being bullied or it could be simply one derogatory word said by one person to another. It is the job of an upstander to step in and say that what’s going on is not right and it won’t be tolerated in our school.”
Gadberry and Olson applied for and received a grant for $1,878 from The Education Foundation of the Forest Lake Area. That cash was used to purchase T-shirts and buttons. On the morning of Feb. 9, the effort officially launched with a cinnamon roll breakfast and a chance for students to sign a pledge to become an upstander and receive a button and T-shirt in return.
“We were both shocked at how quickly our message grew,” Gadberry said. “I think there are a lot of people who want to stand up when they see something bad happening, but they just needed a push. I think this Upstanders group can be that push.”
The motto of the Upstanders is “The courage to confront and the courage to consider,” and according to the official website, it means “having the courage to confront a single person, an action or even a group about something that was inappropriate due to the situation.”
“An Upstander will have the ‘courage to confront’ someone with simple phrases like, ‘Hey, that’s not OK.’ These phrases are not calling someone out, but instead calling someone ‘up.’ Calling someone ‘up’ is confronting that they said or did something bad, but that does not make them a bad person. It’s a ‘you are better than that’ approach,” the description on the website says.
“I love this school, and I am proud to be a student here, and I know that as a whole, we as a student body want to be inclusive and accepting, and this Upstander movement is just a reminder of that,” Gadberry said.