MT. ARARAT MIDDLE SCHOOL students carry the “We All Belong” message as they walk down Main Street on Wednesday toward the Green Bridge between Topsham and Brunswick to meet with Brunswick Junior High School students.

MT. ARARAT MIDDLE SCHOOL students carry the “We All Belong” message as they walk down Main Street on Wednesday toward the Green Bridge between Topsham and Brunswick to meet with Brunswick Junior High School students.

BRUNSWICK

For some, the middle school years can be an incredibly difficult time. Ask Victoria Pulver of Brunswick Junior High School.

The 14-year-old recounted on Wednesday that, at one point in seventh grade, she developed suicidal thoughts and began questioning her sexuality. She couldn’t overcome her fear, and then met with a school counselor who helped her. It took a long time to figure out who she was, she said.

MT. ARARAT MIDDLE SCHOOL and Brunswick Junior High School students, on the right, greet and mingle Wednesday during their united stand to promote a positive school environment.

MT. ARARAT MIDDLE SCHOOL and Brunswick Junior High School students, on the right, greet and mingle Wednesday during their united stand to promote a positive school environment.

Luckily, there were many people at BJHS who helped her on that journey.

BRUNSWICK JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL student Olivia Daughtry speaks during the “We All Belong” walk Wednesday by the Green Bridge where BJHS and Mt. Ararat Middle School students met in a symbolic event to demonstrate their commitment to creating a positive school culture and environment. Also shown are BJHS principal Walter Wallace, in red shirt, and MAMS principal Josh Ottow, in blue shirt.

BRUNSWICK JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL student Olivia Daughtry speaks during the “We All Belong” walk Wednesday by the Green Bridge where BJHS and Mt. Ararat Middle School students met in a symbolic event to demonstrate their commitment to creating a positive school culture and environment. Also shown are BJHS principal Walter Wallace, in red shirt, and MAMS principal Josh Ottow, in blue shirt.

“There were people all around me at BJHS who truly cared about who I was and wouldn’t trade me for anything else in the world,” Pulver said.

Pulver was one of four students who addressed a gathering of BJHS and Mt. Ararat students to demonstrate that their schools are a place where everyone belongs. The gathering occurred after hundreds of students from Mt. Ararat Middle School and Brunswick Junior High School walked from their schools and met at the Frank J. Wood “Green” Bridge between their two towns.

The “We All Belong” originated with the schools’ principals, Mt. Ararat’s Josh Ottow and Brunswick’s Walter Wallace. It was designed to send the message that all students have a right to feel that they belong and should be treated with kindness and respect at school.

The principals were proud of the students who shared their own stories. Wallace said it’s an example of the sense of belonging they have to take that risk without fear of ridicule.

“I applaud them for doing that, and I also applaud the efforts of our kids and staff to be able to create that environment where a student does feel comfortable to do that,” he said.

After gathering in 250th Anniversary Park on the Brunswick side of the bridge, each student found a student from the other school and exchanged a bracelet as a sign of cooperation and friendship.

The two schools have long had a connection to each other due to proximity, and have a long tradition of a healthy rivalry.

“Walter and I started talking earlier this year about what we could do to bring the two schools together around this common issue of positive school climate,” Ottow said after the walk. “And so we had this idea, what if we just met at the Green Bridge. Instead of us leading it, we put it to our student groups. Our students got so excited about it and really mobilized around the idea.”

Middle school is a tough time in life, Ottow said, when kids are figuring out who they are and how they relate to one another.

“We know there can be struggles during this time, but we also know that middle school can be a really positive place for kids and a place they feel connected and they feel like they belong,” Ottow said. “If they have negative experiences at school, it’s not right, and you’re not alone, and actually your community is behind you and is there to support you.”

Wallace said the school community can be a place where students can find a connection.

“Middle schoolers, we know, like to try out new things … so we want to provide as many opportunities for them to explore and also find connections with other people,” he said. “As much as we can do that, the more opportunities the students will have to make not only those friendships but also (learn) how to work and live and exist with others that might have other ideas of what they like to do.”

The walk was organized by the Mt. Ararat Middle School “Change the World” Club, the Interact Club, the Student Council, and the Student Ambassadors, as well as by the Brunswick Junior High School clubs and athletic teams.

A group of Mt. Ararat students from these groups talked to The Times Record about their work promoting the event, which was postponed twice due to weather.

Mt. Ararat Middle School student Emma Hanna thought the idea for the walk was unusual but cool.

“We were going to walk to the bridge, and I was like, ‘That’s nice. That is promoting kindness and I can’t wait for that,’” Hanna said.

“Mainly, we were looking to raise this positive environment that was very inclusive,” said MAMS student Olivia Cox. “This is one of our goals especially in a lot of our clubs.”

It is just one of the events the group is planning centered around inclusiveness and acceptance. It can be hard to create this kind if inclusive school culture, the students said.

“You would hear some negative comments sometimes,” Hanna said. “You always try to promote a better environment.”

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