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Students offer younger peers coping tips in Community Action workshops

Armed with the knowledge that sometimes kids listen and learn better from other kids, more than 30 student volunteers gave workshops to all three grades last week at Hudson Middle School.

The two-day workshops dealt with some of the most common problems faced by middle-schoolers - bullying and teasing, anger and conflict management and how to make and live with decisions. The curriculum for each workshop was researched and designed by the student volunteers, most of them high-school age but some middle-schoolers as well.

In developing the workshops, the student volunteers design the curriculum and then train other volunteers who work in pairs to conduct the workshops. This was the first year workshops were offered at every grade level. The workshops began several years ago with the first on bullying and teasing for sixth-graders. The workshop for anger and conflict management was offered for the first time last year to seventh-graders. This was the first year the decision-making workshop was offered for eighth-grade students.

Veteran Community Action student volunteers Laticia Christensen and Brandon Casa de Calvo collaborated on the research and design of the decision-making workshop. Both seniors, the two say they are both keenly aware of the often difficult decisions students are faced with as they go into high school.

"And it isn't just about making decisions. It's also about learning how to live with the consequences of the decisions we make, both good and bad," said Christensen.

Casa de Calvo doesn't believe adults realize the number of decisions students make on a regular basis and how much stress those decisions can create for the average teen-ager.

"It's not just about big things like whether or not to drink or do drugs. There are those but it's so much more. It's about how to manage your time, how to fit in athletics, and studying and a job. There's the social pressure of dating and having a relationship. And then what do you do after you've made a bad decision?"

On day 1, students discussed examples of short- and long-term discussions in their lives, and they learned about tools to help them make decisions - things like "know your own mind, find your internal guide, choose a destination, list the pros and cons and separate needs from wants."

They also talked about decisions in terms of what parents want and expect for their children.

The workshop explores what they call the A+B+C+D+E method of decision-making - be aware, brainstorm about the decision, think about consequences, decide what to do and, finally, after the decision is made, evaluate it honestly.

Activities include having the students write letters to themselves with goals they want to accomplish the next month, year and by the end of high school. They break into smaller groups and using the "Jeopardy" game show format talk about things that keep them from achieving their goals. They also discuss the different styles of decision-making.

As critical as making a decision, according to the high school students presenting the workshops, is evaluating it after the consequences are clear and learning from it, good or bad. Seniors Lindsey Olson and Kelly Miller presented the decision-making workshop to another eighth-grade class. They told the students that as tough as making a decision is, recovering from a bad one is probably harder but just as important as the decision itself.

"The key to it is being honest," said Olson. "You have to be honest with yourself about the consequences of what you decided. Then if you can fix it, you do. If you can't, you learn from it and move on."

Miller thinks this workshop for eighth-graders is good timing. "Making that transition into high school is the biggest one so far for most kids. I remember it was a really big deal for me. You go from being the top class in this school (middle school) to the bottom of everything at high school. You are nervous and intimidated and there's a lot more to decide in high school."

Every workshop ends with a question-and-answer period where participants can ask any questions they want of the presenters. Some have to do with the content of the workshop but often the questions are about what life is like at high school and verifying the fact or fiction of things they have heard about life at HHS.

Questions concern crowding in the halls, the food in the cafeteria and whether gym at high school is like it is at middle school. The presenters get a chance to talk about increased expectations in high school classes and about how managing time is important.

Tim Luedtke is a freshman at HHS and this was his first year as a workshop presenter. He said he enjoyed the experience he had with the seventh-graders.

"It was kind of funny being back here but after we got into it, I think it went pretty well. They had a lot of questions about what it was like at high school, and I think they like hearing it from someone close to their age."

The workshops have the full support of the middle school administration and faculty, who work with Community Action on other projects as well. Community Action's Jim Mitchell said he was glad to finally have something at all grade levels this year, and he says the student volunteers, many of them middle school alumni, will be back next year to do it again.

For more information about Community Action and the programs they offer, see the organization's calendar in the Community News section of this week's Star-Observer or call (715) 386-9803.

Meg Heaton can be reached at

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

(715) 808-8604