SPARKing kindness: Student-led group grows, celebrating Unity Day Wednesday

A local student-led group called SPARK – Support Positive Actions with Respect and Kindness — has a mission to produce positive change, and members are calling awareness to bullying prevention this week.

Wednesday, the group is taking part in Unity Day, a yearly event created by Pacer National Bullying Prevention Center where everybody is encouraged to wear orange to show unity against all forms of bullying and to stand united for kindness, acceptance and inclusion, according to a news release from the Seneca County General Health District.

Last week, students provided anti-bullying information and activities at the Self-Care Fair sponsored by the Tiffin Seneca Public Library.

The release said SPARK’s goal is to create a positive bully-free culture in the community and schools. The name was chosen to encourage people to be the “SPARK” that spreads kindness to others.

This year, the release said SPARK has increased student representation from seven to 10 local schools including Calvert, Columbian, Old Fort, Mohawk, New Riegel, Seneca East, North Central Academy, Hopewell-Loudon, Sentinel and the School of Opportunity.

Planning is underway to participate in various school and community events.

In October 2018, the release said the student-led approach was the first of its kind with 15 juniors and seniors from seven area schools. The teens met each month to lay the foundation of the Bullying Prevention Youth Advisory Council named SPARK.

First-year activities included the creation of the group name, a mission statement, a logo and a Facebook page. Students also introduced and participated in various awareness activities at their schools and in the community.

Every October, schools, organizations and communities across the country join in observing National Bullying Prevention Month, the release said.

According to the health department, the Center for Disease Control says one out of every five high school students report being bullied each year. Students affected by bullying are at greater risk for both mental and behavioral problems, the release said. They often experience poor school adjustment, sleep difficulties, anxiety and depression.

The health department said bullying was reported by 44% of students in grades 6-12 during the 2016 Seneca County Health Assessment, and 9% reported being “cyberbullied.”

Youth violence and bullying were identified as priorities to be addressed in the Community Health Improvement Plan by the Seneca County Health Alliance. For that reason, the release said the Seneca County Bullying Prevention Coalition was formed in 2017 to research bullying in the county and determine effective means of prevention. Forming a student-led bullying prevention youth advisory council was one of the outcomes.

For more information, to voice concerns, provide advice or partner with SPARK, contact Matt Coleman, Seneca Mentoring Youth Links (SMYL) at mcoleman@ncoesc.org or visit the Facebook page, SPARK — Seneca County.