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WAUSAU (WAOW) -
School is a place we'd all like to think is perfectly safe. But as we've seen, that can change in an instant.
One school in our area is doing to prevent violence by helping students while they're still young.
Some fourth and fifth graders from Franklin Elementary School in Wausau are going through special training. These students—dubbed "junior leaders"—learn how to avoid violent behavior themselves, and to help younger children to the same.
"We teach the students what needs and what the kindergartners and first graders would like, and then try to teach them to replace those with more positive," said Andy Grimm, a school counselor at Franklin who leads the training sessions.
Grimm teaches students how to help younger kids focus on communicating rather than reacting with violence or threats. Then they get to practice what they learn, and then it's back to school where the students get to do it in real life by helping supervise kindergartners and first graders in a special recess each day.
"We just want to help all students develop better communication skills and social skills and personal skills so that they can solve those issues themselves before thinking about violence as a solution," said Grimm.
"If we can teach these people, then they can show good examples for other which will lead to others, and then it will make it better," said fourth grader Ryan Keefe.
"What we learned here today helped us learn more games and stuff to help the kindergartners and first graders," added Meylesha Vang.
It's a program Grimm says can make a difference and help prevent students from acting violently down the road.
School violence is a real issue, thrust to the forefront of the public debate with events like the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary massacre.
Here in Wausau, one high school recently avoided tragedy. In October, a student at Wausau West received some threatening text messages. The student told an adult. Police were called, and the suspect was arrested.
"It's just another example of where we don't care who it is, we want kids to feel comfortable talking to an adult," said Jeff Lindell, director of pupil services at the Wausau School District. He says the district works hard to create an environment of trust for students.
"That is the cornerstone of having a successful safety plan, is adults that have relationships with kids," said Lindell. "Without those relationships, there's not that bridge for kids to come forward and talk to the adults when we need them to."
And a safe building, district leaders say, is the ultimate goal. That's why they start young to help students learn appropriate behavior and be a positive influence at school.
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