Author talk leads to TMS anti-bullying club – Teton Valley News

The sixth and seventh graders of Teton Middle School were unusually captivated during a presentation in the gym last Wednesday morning. The students listened and laughed as childrens book author Ben Mikaelsen described the trials of his childhood, interspersed with remarkable photos of him with his tame 700-pound black bear, Buffy.

Mikaelsen was in Driggs thanks to a grant from the Education Foundation of Teton Valley. Sixth grade English teacher Jennifer Marlar, fresh from the Teton County, Wyoming school district, was surprised to find that TMS didnt have any anti-bullying programming.

So I made it my mission to start an anti-bullying campaign, she said.

The sixth graders are reading Touching Spirit Bear, Mikaelsens novel about a juvenile delinquent that finds redemption through a Native American healing process, so it seemed like a no-brainer to invite Mikaelsen to speak at the middle school. Marlar applied for $1,500 through the EFTV classroom grant program. That covered half of Mikaelsens speaking fee, so Jackson Hole Middle School paid the rest in order for him to visit that school as well.

EFTV executive director Pam Walker said that through the Tin Cup, other fundraisers, and private donations, the nonprofit has been able to gradually increase the amount of funding for classroom grants, and this year will give educators a total of $31,000 for new programs, supplies, technology, books, and field trips.

Mikaelsen spoke, joked, and jested for an hour, describing his experiences being bullied as a student in Bolivia and Minnesota, and becoming a bully himself. He explained that chasing his passions of storytelling, high diving, flying, and sky diving freed him from that relentless cycle.

He challenged the students to pursue their own dreams and to have the bravery to be kind to their peers.

You have one fantastic life to explore Planet Earth, he told them. Are you going to waste it putting other people down?

Now Marlar hopes to build on Mikaelsens momentum by forming a student-led anti-bullying after school club. She said the kids will plan, research, and implement a school-wide campaign to encourage mutual respect, kindness, and support.

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Author talk leads to TMS anti-bullying club - Teton Valley News

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