New Albany Middle School students will host an anti-bully walk April 27 in conjunction with the high school's annual Peace Week.

New Albany Middle School students will host an anti-bully walk April 27 in conjunction with the high school's annual Peace Week.

"The (middle school) kids asked for the walk as a way to build anti-bullying compassion," said Zoe Guirlinger, president of Ultimate U Total Health, one of the event sponsors.

This is the third year for the Peace Week 2-mile walk and 5K run, but it is the first year that the middle school has become involved, asking participants to pledge their commitment to help prevent bullying.

Elizabeth Gonda, middle school dean of students, said the walk protesting bullying came from a group of eighth-graders, called Eagle Wings.

"This is the first year for this group in its current form, but it was born out of our longstanding mentor program," Gonda said. "My vision for the program is that it will empower those with an interest in leading to make a difference using service and character as the conduit for that empowerment. At the beginning of the school year, as we were brainstorming ideas of how to make a difference in our school and our community, the students generated the concept of a walk to protest bullying."

The anti-bullying sentiment fits the theme of Peace Week, which was started 13 years ago as a way for New Albany students to celebrate peace and speak out against school violence.

Guirlinger said the middle school students hope to raise $20,000 from the walk to bring Challenge Day to New Albany. Challenge Day, a nonprofit organization formed in 1987, provides one-day programs designed to build "connection and empathy" in grades 7-12 and fulfill the organization's mission "that every child lives in a world where they feel safe, loved and celebrated."

The walk is free for students and school staff members. Community members will pay $15 to participate, Guirlinger said.

"Although the students requested that there not be any charge to participate in the walk and that participants simply needed to sign a pro-peace pledge, there are avenues for leveled sponsorship," Gonda said. "All proceeds collected through community participation and leveled sponsorship will go toward bringing the Challenge Day program to New Albany Middle School."

For the March 14 kickoff for the walk and run at New Albany Middle School, 300 students signed up for both events.

"The only reason they stopped signing up was because we ran out of forms," Guirlinger said.

Students, school staff members and community members may register for either the walk or run through April 13 at

To make the walk a schoolwide event, Guirlinger said, students in the two elementary schools are making anti-bullying posters to promote the walk, and the students will be invited to be on the sidelines on the day of the event, cheering for their peers during the walk.

"The students live and breathe the culture of our schools each and every day. They, more than any parent or teacher, are inherently aware of the importance of an anti-bullying movement," Gonda said. "We as adults will not change this culture alone."

Gonda said the walk would strengthen the students' resolve as they walk alongside adults.

"If we as the adults of the community stand beside these children as they walk for the respect and honor that each child deserves, the power of this one 2-mile walk will reach far into the future," Gonda said. "At one of our Eagle Wings' meetings, the students were discussing the power of partnering with the community. They felt that knowing that everywhere they went - from the bus stop to the classroom, from Market Street to Eagle Stadium - that there would be an adult looking out for them, that it would make all the difference."