DISTRICT ALERT Posted Feb 22, 2018, 5:25:42 AM: Woodland Public Schools will be closed today.

Woodland High School students learn how to Be the Change by improving student relations at their school

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Woodland High School students take part in Be the Change: an anti-bullying campaign kicking off with a special seminar featuring activities used to break down cultural barriers and create a more cohesive student culture throughout the school.

​Woodland High School students volunteer to participate in a day-long seminar called Make the Change to improve student relations at their school
​Woodland High School students volunteer to participate in a day-long seminar called Make the Change to improve student relations at their school

Travis Ruhter, presenter of Make the Change seminars, visits schools throughout southwest Washington to help students from different walks of life get to know one another, and learn that everyone has challenges they face throughout their lives as part of United Way's United for Change program.

Students at Woodland High School volunteered to participate in the day-long seminar, and took part in a variety of ice-breaking activities and group work designed to help students meet people they wouldn't normally interact with throughout the school day. "For me, I've seen kids completely change their outlook based on realizations they've had during these seminars," said Ruhter. "Being able to give these presentations is what inspires me to teach."

​Students form small groups with whom they share their experiences and take part in group activities during the day
​Students form small groups with whom they share their experiences and take part in group activities during the day

Before the day of the seminar, Woodland High School's leadership class identified different cliques they see in the school. During the seminar, students form groups at the beginning of the day and brainstorm adjectives often used to label the different cliques. After discussing what the different labels mean to them, each group of students literally tears down the posters of brainstormed labels as a metaphor for breaking down the barriers between each clique. Students also identified the insecurity they personally hold about themselves and shared their experiences with others in their group.

Ruhter is a foreign language and leadership teacher at Mark Morris High School in Longview School District, and started giving seminars after students in his leadership class suggested the need for a program which would motivate students to think about their school's community and how students relate to one another. "The seminar started as a half-day program, grew to full-day, and eventually evolved to also include a weekend camp," explained Ruhter. "Make the Change focuses on what students are passionate about and to help introduce leadership skills to a wide variety of students from all of their individual and unique perspectives."

​Toward the end of the day, students took turns talking about the experiences they had throughout the seminar
​Toward the end of the day, students took turns talking about the experiences they had throughout the seminar

Toward the end of the day, students each had the opportunity to take the microphone and speak about the experiences they had throughout the day. Students thanked each other for participating. Others told each other that they were always there to listen if they need to talk to someone about their problems. One student spoke about how amazing an experience it was to be able to open up to a complete stranger. One student confessed that she attended the seminar because it would get her out of class for the day, but since participating, she grew to really appreciate the experience and learning more about her classmates.

Sarah Gray, one of Woodland High School's counselors, believes the seminar makes a big difference in the lives of students at the school. "This event is part of the Be the Change anti-bullying campaign we use throughout the school year," explained Gray. "Be the Change is all about using awareness and communication to help improve student relations."

In 2013, Ruhter was recognized as Advisor of the Year by the United for Change program. Ruhter developed his seminar using techniques and ideas he learned from other teachers and events, and constantly evolves his seminars to include the new techniques he learns. "Seeing what the program has accomplished in this area is truly amazing," said Ruhter. "I love kids and love what they're capable of – if you give them the time and the platform, they'll accomplish amazing things."

The United Way is considered a "full-service" United Way by being a community problem-solving institution, managing resources to increase the capacity of people to care for one another. United Way of Cowlitz and Wahkiakum Counties impacts the communities by raising and distributing money to local organizations while conducting programs like United for Change. To learn more, visit their website at: https://www.cowlitzunitedway.org/united-change