HOUGHTON - A local student group's project to stop bullying at its earliest stages has won an award.
The Keweenaw Community Foundation Youth Advisory Council was presented with an award for its anti-bullying board game, "Bully Backfire," at the Summer Youth Grantmakers Conference at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant last week.
The group started the game three years ago as one of its annual community service projects. They've continued it since, taking it to fourth-grade groups in Houghton, Hancock and Lake Linden.
"We thought bullying is a major problem, especially in middle school," said Rachel Chard, co-president of the YAC. "We kind of wanted to target a younger age, because it starts in elementary school. We were brainstorming ideas - I don't remember who came up with it - and said let's create a game board and ask the kids bullying questions."
The game starts first with a classroom session in which the high school mentors address questions like "What is bullying?" and "Why does bullying happen?"
Children then take their shoes off and stand on a mat. They answer multiple-choice questions; correct answers allow them to advance various numbers of steps across the board.
"They wanted to make it fun and different, so they made these mats that are 9 by 12 (feet)," YAC advisor Lois Jambekar said. "It's like a human Sorry board, with different blocks on it."
Some blocks earn them another card. Landing on yellow means a "Do It" card, in which students perform activities such as "Say something nice about your teacher" and "What is something nice you could do for an elderly person?"
The message is more important than the outcome, Chard said. "We don't really enforce the whole winning thing. If somebody falls behind, we say 'Oh, you can take a couple of extra (turns)."
Chard was the only representative for the group downstate, but also met another person with a connection to the project - a former YAC member who was there at the start of the anti-bullying project but subsequently moved.
"She was also very excited," Chard said.
Chard hopes the group can add more schools over the years as the YAC gains more members. And there's also talk of exporting the game.
"Some of the people down at the conference were like, 'Can we get that plan for you?'" Chard said.
Jambekar is pleased by the recognition for the YAC. "I'm so proud of our whole Youth Advisory Council," she said. "The whole YAC is responsible for coming up with the unique game that this is. It's one of a kind."