VERNAL — One by one, Tyler Mansfield and Aaron Dockins loaded cobble rocks into the backpack Diesel Garcia was wearing.
The slight, quiet third-grader's shoulders sagged a little more as each rock settled into the bag.
"How does that feel?" Mansfield, a senior at Uintah High School, asked.
The older boys weren't bullying the much younger boy. Instead they were using the stones, the backpack and the Larry Hiller poem "Pocket Full of Rocks" to teach Garcia and his classmates at Ashley Elementary School a lesson about the harm that comes from harboring hard feelings toward others.
"Would you want to walk around all day with that?" Mansfield asked Garcia, before unloading the backpack while talking about the benefits of forgiving one's self and others.
"The main focus is to learn how to be kind to people," said Mayberry, who serves as DECA Club president.
"If we teach the kids the appropriate ways to act, the kind of behavior that they should have, that will, in turn, make it so they don't feel the need to bully," Mayberry said.
The trio researched the issue and found bullying becomes more prevalent once kids reach fourth grade, McClellan said. So the 52 members of the DECA Club who teach the program gear their message toward third-graders.
"We can hit them right before they start to think they're too cool to listen to older kids," McClellan said.
The younger kids learn the difference between tattling and reporting a bully. They're also taught a process dubbed "Stop, Walk and Talk" that encourages them to tell a bully to stop harassing them, to walk away if that doesn't work and to talk to an adult about what happened.
The program also focuses on honoring acts of kindness by others, with students writing those acts down on pieces of paper that are linked into chains.
"To see those grow is really, really cool," Mansfield said, "to see how one little chain link can start a ripple effect."
The program began in November as a pilot project at Ashley Elementary. It's been so successful, it's now being taught to every third-grade class in the Uintah School District's seven elementary schools.
"The first impression that I got was how hard the (high school) kids have worked," said Kevin Graham, whose third-grade class was among the first to take part in the five-month program.
"I've seen (my students) get better with their interaction with one another, trying to find alternatives rather than fighting, and really being tuned in to how the other one feels," Graham said.
The Uintah High students said the response they get from the kids makes the work they've done worthwhile.
"They're really sweet, and they really try to take the lessons to heart," McClellan said. "They really try to do what we teach them and tell them, so that's been a good part of the program for me."
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