It's lunchtime at Kerman High School. Senior Melissa Terrazas hangs out with her friends, but she's also keeping her eyes and ears open. "During class periods you'll hear other people talking behind people's backs saying stuff that happened on the weekend and talking smack about them."
At one time, Melissa Terrazas was among those talking smack, bullying other students. "I would call them names. Sometimes I would even threaten them that I would kind of beat 'em up."
Melissa's attitude changed when she began to see her actions were hurting those closest to her. These days she's trying to make a positive difference as a safe school ambassador.
Randy Mehrten, Director of Safe and Healthy Kids for Fresno County schools says he wants students who are leaders, in every clique and small group to use their abilities for the positive. "What we find is that the existence of leadership skills can be found all over campus, and it may not be traditionally in the leadership program or the captain of the football team or the president of the school, those pockets of leadership are occurring all over campus."
The staff at Kerman High recognized Melissa Terrazas' leadership abilities, and trained her and dozens of other students to use special communication skills to prevent or de-escalate mistreatment among students. "We change the subject. We 'pick up' a 'put down' without making the other person look bad either."
"I try to change the subject," said Delores Peralta. "I try to do it without being bossy. I try to tell them can you come help me on this? So I can just make them stop talking about them."
At Caruthers High School, the Safe School Ambassadors have noticed fewer fights on campus since they started meeting three years ago.
Antonio Razon said, "The Safe School Ambassador is not necessarily your job to snitch, it's just to try and prevent problems from happening, because we're students and we hear about this stuff before adults do and this allows us to do something."
Safe School Ambassadors are taught to balance. If they hear a 'put down' they speak what they call a 'put up' ... and then change the conversation. Safe School Ambassadors also take action, like supporting. Steven Huerta says he's had to move beyond his comfort zone and be a friend. "I guess where we eat lunch or whatever. There's this kid where, a lot of kids pick on him and like isolate him. So I just go right next to him and start speaking to him because everyone needs a friend."
45 schools in Fresno County now have the Safe School Ambassador Program.
This story is just one of several featured in a new Children First special highlighting bullying. You can watch the program this Sunday, April 3rd at 6:30 p.m., right after Action News at 6:00.