December 19, 2014

Elyria
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Safety a calling for Elyria Schools veteran

ELYRIA — Kelly Luter’s childhood story about being bullied by adolescent peers garnered the support of several middle schools three years ago when she decided to form the Eastern Heights Anti-Bullying Taskforce.

Her admission of being picked-on and ridiculed as a child let the middle-schoolers know they had a kindred spirit in Luter, a media specialist with a passion for coaching basketball, track and cross country.

Now, her goal to help students avoid being the targets of bullies will be what fuels her in her new position with the district.

Starting next school year, Luter, who has been with the district for nine years, will be employed as the district’s school climate coordinator. The position was created to address the most important issue of public education beyond academics — safety.

“When kids feel safe, they perform better,” Luter said.

Superintendent Paul Rigda announced Luter’s new role in the district earlier this month during his annual State of the Schools address. At that time, he boasted how the job would not cost the district money as it was just taking a current employee and giving that employee new responsibilities. Luter’s salary will be $56,000.

Luter’s role is more than just teaching and interacting with kids in a different way, said Dawn McCreedy, Elyria’s director of pupil services.

McCreedy envisions Luter as the coordinator of calmness, both in the buildings and among students. She will be in charge of coordinating all of the district’s anti-bullying efforts, working with the student conduct coordinator on the Positive Behavior, Interventions and Support program and keeping the district on all Safe Schools initiatives.

“It will be an easy job for her. She was doing the job before we gave her the title because that is her passion,” McCreedy said. “We didn’t create this job for Kelly. We knew we needed to fill this position and we saw that we already had everything we were looking for in Kelly. She was already walking the walk.”

Typically, when an active anti-bullying group starts at a school it is the result of some sort of tragedy — a child commits suicide or threatens to physically harm a peer. But Luter said none of that was going on at Eastern Heights when she decided to get students involved in the cause.

“But it was happening all over the world. Kids were killing themselves and each other because they were hurting,” she said.

Luter’s group at Eastern Heights started with 84 students at the first meeting and has consistently stayed near that number, even though the requirements for joining the group are tough. Students have to write a one-page essay explaining why they want to join, sign an anti-bullying pledge, attend mandatory meetings and keep up their grades. Students not only share their anti-bullying message with other Eastern Heights students, they also visit other schools in the district.

“We go to the elementary schools so we can stop bullying before it starts,” said Eric Cray, 12, a seventh-grader. “It helps kids to understand how bullying affects kids’ lives.”

Eric said he was bullied in elementary school and felt some anxiety about going to middle school, but the anti-bullying group has done its job in diminishing those fears. He joined last year when he was in the sixth grade.

“I can honestly say I feel safe here,” he said.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.