Upstander program teaches students how to be part of fixing the problem

Published 6:02 am Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Nearly 800 seventh and eighth grade students gathered in the Ellis Middle School auditorium last week to listen to their fellow students from Austin High School talk about being an upstander. 

Students Taking A New Direction (STAND) provided a presentation full of videos, definitions and role plays to explain what being an Upstander was all about. For 30 minutes students were engaged by the message that it is better to be an upstander than a bystander.

Austin High School STAND students have been working with STAND advisors and Daniel Hanson, a teacher and speech coach that has always had an interest in improv.  Improv is the skill of being able to create dialog on the spot without a script. 

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For the month of October, nearly a dozen STAND students woke up early before school and practiced the skill of improv.

Role playing at the Upstander training at Ellis Middle School featuring Marion Weke, Nicholas Hueper, Liliana Ceballos-Reyes, Cheney Yao, Katherine Diaz, Megan Dilley-Jones.

“These students worked very hard on a project they believed in,” said Jacob Nelson, teacher and one of the two STAND advisors at the high school.  “Mastering a new skill is hard and these students did it after only a few sessions!” 

Upstander training teaches students the difference between a bystander and an upstander. Additionally, students learn the value of empathy and how that can help understand what others are feeling.  Three strategies were demonstrated in simulated role plays so that students can see a respectful and safe way to respond to situations.  These three strategies include:

• Direct – If safe, address the problem;

• Distract – Take attention away from the action

• Delegate – When you see something getting out of control, seek an adult.

The Upstander training is a volunteer service project that several high school students in the STAND group wanted to implement for younger students in the district.  The training includes a short presentation followed by several role play situations illustrating what an upstander might do in a situation. 

The Upstander training was inspired and informed by the StepUp! Bystander Intervention Program at the University of Arizona, founded by Becky Bell, the Got Your Back! University of MN –Duluth,  Shannon Bailie and Jason Kilmer worked on rape myth acceptance and bystander behavior amd BullyBust: Promoting a Community of Upstanders.

Bill Spitzer is the Planning and Implementation (P & I) Coordinator working closely with APAC (Austin Positive Action Coalition). APAC and Bill will be working with our schools and community as part of a five-year grant focusing on Positive Community Norms.  Feel free to contact him at the Austin High School 507-460-1800 ext. 0361 or via e-mail This grant is made possible by the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Behavioral Health Division and hosted locally by the PRC. To learn more about the Parenting Resource, visit their website at