MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) -- Like many schools, Hilldale Middle School had already installed security cameras and used hand-held metal detectors to protect against possible violence.
But when a student opened fire at nearby Fort Gibson Middle School in December, officials in the Hilldale independent school district on the southern edge of Muskogee decided they needed to do even more. That's when the School Safety Task Force, comprised entirely of students, was formed.
Student council members select captains and co-captains to serve as group leaders, but the task force is open to any student. About 120 participate in the task force, which focuses on implementing prevention and early intervention strategies to decrease violence and substance abuse, said Tracy Fenton, school psychologist and counselor.
In September, students took a survey on school safety, including bullying, when and where students don't feel safe, weapons at school and the impact of the task force at school.
The first project of the group this year was the survey. It showed students feel less bullied this year than they did last year, and it showed that 92 percent of students gave the school safety program a C or better grade.
In hindsight, school psychologists and others have found that bullying tends to be at the root of school violence, Principal John Engelbrecht said. He said Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the two shooters at the Columbine school district in Colorado, were said to be bullied by their peers.
"The bullying, the harassment, the shunning . . . they were excluded by their peers," Fenton said.
Along with the task force and student survey, student council members asked the student body to sign a no-taunting pledge, which 93 percent of the student body did, she said.
Students are reporting harassment more, both of themselves and others, Fenton said. Much of the time, students resolve the issue directly with the student, either involving Fenton or a team of peer mediators, she said.
Kristen Adair, an eighth-grade student and a peer mediator, said students need to see situations from the other person's perspective.
"We don't come up with solutions," she said. "They do."
Alyssa Kampf, another eighth-grade peer mediator, said the process seems to work with few repeat offenders.
"I think the kids, us at school, we feel more comfortable talking to people our age," she said. "Kids understand each other better."