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Gladeville Elementary School staff took an opportunity several years ago to focus on anti-bullying and character-building initiatives, which one teacher said has changed the culture in the school and community

“When you reduce bullying and kids feel safe at school, it boosts their confidence and allows them to focus on learning, which allows them and the school to flourish,” said Gladeville fifth-grade teacher Debbie Yankura

Yankura spearheaded the school’s latest anti-bullying video, “Invisible,” which uses Hunter Hayes’ song of the same name and shows last year’s fifth graders doing several acts of kindness to students who were bullied or mistreated.

The video was the third the school produced in as many years and aligns with its school-wide bullying prevention program.

Yankura said the program was introduced four years ago and involved a team of teachers who attended a training seminar about bullying and decided to use the lessons learned at Gladeville.

“We’re lucky because we didn’t really have a bad problem to begin with at Gladeville, but it has made such a difference in the school,” Yankura said.

The annual videos feature fifth graders – about 95 last year – for an important reason.

“We really try to boost them up and make them the leaders of the school. When the younger kids see them, it empowers them and lets them know they’re not alone in how they might be feeling. It has changed the culture in our school,” Yankura said.

Yankura said it’s not uncommon for students to make a strong effort to make everyone feel welcome and accepted at the school. She said the school has adopted a “no team member left behind” approach.

“You hear so much about bullying on the news, and it’s unfortunate. Any time you have a group of people in a setting, there’s a potential for conflict. Our goal is to teach kids how to deal with conflict appropriately so it doesn’t grow into something negative like bullying,” Yankura said.

She said funding for the videos comes from sponsors and are done yearly when enough money is collected.

She said the school has recently became closer through its “Choose Kind” initiative, sparked by the bestselling book, “Wonder,” written by Raquel Jaramillo and tells the story of a 10-year-old boy born with distorted facial features.

The book was adapted into a film of the same name, which was released in theaters this week.

“Every class is reading the book,” said Yankura, who said the wave has students scrambling to avoid spoilers and catch up to their peers. “Every morning, [Gladeville principal Monica Fox] reads a quote from the book. It’s been amazing.”

Gladeville was recognized as a Reward School for the past two years, which Yankura said might not be a coincidence.

“I really believe it has a lot to do with kids coming to school and feeling safe. It frees them up to learn and allows them to focus on that. It’s been great.”