Catholic high school students work to end bullying ‘Piece-by-Peace’

Courtesy Mater Dei High School
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EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Austin Bowen, Noah Harrison and Michaela Kunkler, seniors at Mater Dei High School in Evansville, have ideas about how to combat bullying. Those ideas have helped them each land a full scholarship to the University of Evansville.

The trio recently won the university's High School Changemaker Challenge; the grand prize is a full scholarship to the university for each member of the winning team.

The University of Evansville website for the challenge explains the high school competition as being "designed to motivate young people to take a leading role in identifying and solving challenges in the world around them through innovation and creativity."

Bowen will major in psychology, Harrison in history and Kunkler in visual communications. That's a truly effective blending of interests when it comes to creating the board game they developed as an anti-bullying education tool. They call it "Piece-by-Peace," and it's already gaining notice at ever-expanding levels.

The trio has had inquiries from Ohio and elsewhere. "Holy Redeemer School in Evansville wants it," Kunkler said, "and Youth First (an agency that provides counseling services in the Evansville area) is very interested in the game. I also have talked about it with a social worker I know who lives in Indianapolis, and she is very interested in getting it."

"Piece-by-Peace" features a game "trail" that meanders around the outside of a heart made from multicolor pieces. The trail includes tiles that match the colors in the heart, and each of those colors relates to some element of bullying and efforts against it.

As players move around the trail, they get information on topics related to each color. "The purple is for isolation bullying, which occurs when everyone just ignores a person," Harrison explained in an interview with The Message, newspaper of the Diocese of Evansville. "Green is for verbal bullying, blue for cyberbullying and red for physical bullying."

"The yellow represents 'Did you know?' facts about bullying to help educate people about what they can do when they or someone they know experiences it," Bowen added. "The orange is for 'fun facts' that help educate people, too."

The game itself is straightforward — players move around the board, stopping on different colors and discussing the issues related to that color. When they stop on a color, they claim a piece of the heart in that color. The game concludes when all the pieces of the heart have been claimed.

Mater Dei teacher Donna Lefler, who served as the team's faculty adviser, said they began kicking around ideas about four months before the February 2017 competition.

"We began our conversations by listing social problems like homelessness, teen suicide, etc.," Lefler said. "After the death of the young man from Central High School (in Evansville), where bullying played a major role, bullying became the issue."

Bowen, Harrison and Kunkler ultimately decided on the game, and Kunkler took the lead in its visual design. "Piece-by-Peace, the name, came up after we were rolling full tilt on the game," Lefler said. "It came from a mother who saw something that we hadn't yet seen. (The students) began to research, and it became an animal on its own." 

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