'Be Buddies Not Bullies': Mrs. Detroit Lakes promotes anti-bullying platform, preps for upcoming Mrs. Minnesota pageant
"They called me stupid."
"They called me a retard."
"They told me I didn't look right for the game they were playing."
Just about every fourth-grader in Mrs. Courtney Qualley-Landor's class has a personal story about other kids being mean to them.
Wearing their new, bright red "Be Buddies Not Bullies" t-shirts in their classroom at Roosevelt Elementary on Tuesday, the kids talked about times they'd been bullied, and then pledged to always treat others with kindness.
The t-shirts, the discussion, and some related hands-on exercises were brought to the class that day by a special guest—Mrs. Detroit Lakes, Amanda Boden.
Boden has visited nearly 20 local classrooms in recent weeks to talk to kids about bullying and the importance of being kind and sticking up for others. It's part of her "Be Buddies Not Bullies" platform for the upcoming Mrs. Minnesota-America pageant.
From what she's seen and heard, bullying is not unique to Mrs. Courtney Qualley-Landor's fourth grade class. It seems everyone has had or is having a personal experience with bullying. Maybe they're the bully, maybe they're the bullied. Or maybe they're a person in the middle, someone who has to make a choice between staying silent or speaking up for someone else.
That was the position Boden herself remembers being in as a young girl. She recalls friends of hers being bullied in school, and she didn't stand up for them. She regrets that now, and wants to prevent others from making the same mistake she made.
Today, Boden is a married mother of two school-aged kids, and bullying is an issue of deep concern to her. She had never been interested in competing in pageants before, but decided to get her feet wet as Mrs. Detroit Lakes so she could have a public platform for her anti-bullying message.
It was a tragic story she saw on the news that motivated her to action: a sixth-grade boy from Crookston committed suicide last year because of bullying. That boy was the same age as Boden's stepson, and it really hit home for her. She started looking into bullying and its connection to depression and suicide in kids, and she didn't like what she found.
The statistics are alarming. Nationwide, almost one in three students report being bullied during the school year. According to research Boden found, 70 percent of kids will refuse to go to school at least once because of bullying.
Bullying is often a factor in childhood depression and suicide. Research has shown that girls attempt suicide more often than boys, but boys (though they make fewer attempts) succeed more often. Between 1999 and 2015, 76 percent of all children under 13 who killed themselves were boys.
After learning all this, Boden knew she had to do something to spread a message of kindness among youth. She said she wants to show kids that, "we're all in this together and the only way to make it better is by standing up for each other and being kinder to everybody."
In her classroom visits, she starts by asking the students two questions: 1) Have they ever had anything mean said to them; and 2) Have they ever said anything mean to anyone else? No matter the age of the kids she's talking to, Boden said, everyone in the room will raise their hand in response to both questions, and this shows them that they're all in the same boat.
After that, she leads a discussion on bullying and some hands-on exercises that vary depending on the grade level she's working with. With the fourth graders this week, she had the kids squeeze toothpaste out of a tube for every example of bullying shared by kids in the class. A girl said she was excluded by her peers—that's a squeeze. A boy was picked on for his looks—that's a squeeze. Pretty soon, all the tubes in the room were empty; depleted and drained—a representation of how a person feels after being treated unkindly.
Near the end of her presentation, Boden encouraged the students to put an end to bullying by not becoming bullies themselves, by standing up for others who are being bullied, and by pledging to be kind. Each student wrote down a "kindness pledge" and then shared it on a classroom-wide Kindness Board.
In addition to her classroom visits, Boden has recently started A Bunch of Buddies, a monthly event for kids. The first event was a pizza and swimming party at the Holiday Inn. The events are designed as a safe place for kids to spend time together and make friends in a positive environment. The group always does some sort of fun activity, followed by a kindness exercise. Visit Boden's Facebook page for more information and monthly updates on those events. All kids are invited.
Boden's got a documentary in the works, too. It's only in the very beginning stages now, but she said the film will feature local people sharing their unique perspectives on bullying—herself, a mom, a transgender student, a little boy, and others. Boden is hoping kids here will take the issue of bullying to heart when they hear the true stories of people from their own hometown.
She's created the red Be Buddies Not Bullies t-shirts, which have been shared with some classes, and has also been contacted by local businesses wanting to help raise awareness by having their staff wear those t-shirts around the workplace.
"Although I'm currently trying to impact kids because as a mom that's where my heart is, I definitely want to team up with anyone in my community and create kindness anywhere possible," Boden said.
Developing and promoting her platform is the single most important part of the Mrs. Minnesota pageant for Boden, but she's preparing for the competition in other ways, as well. Since she's never been in a pageant before, she's learning as she goes. She has to choose a swimsuit and evening gown, and is trying to get herself used to being seen and heard by large groups of people.
"I'm a little nervous about it," she admitted. "This is definitely a new adventure for me. I'm not usually very comfortable in front of other people, I usually just stick to myself. But if I can help a couple of kids, this'll be worth it."
A native of Bemidji, Minn., Boden and her husband, Chris, were living in North Dakota for the oil boom before they moved to Detroit Lakes about a year ago. She is the manager at the local Caribou Coffee.
Boden successfully made it through an application process to become Mrs. Detroit Lakes. That title allows her to become the city's representative in the Mrs. Minnesota-America pageant in Minneapolis on June 23.
Be Buddies Not Bullies 5K
As part of her platform for the upcoming Mrs. Minnesota pageant, Mrs. Detroit Lakes, Amanda Boden, is hosting a 5K fundraiser. On Saturday, May 26, starting at 9 a.m. at the Holiday Inn in Detroit Lakes, the Be Buddies Not Bullies 5K will raise money for local charitable causes. Boden will be there herself, as will two other special guests from the state pageant circuit. The 5K will start and end at the hotel; registration and a proceeding awards ceremony will take place inside.