Stu Cabe wants every student at Galt High School to be a big elephant.
Standing in front of a crowd of hundreds of teenagers, Cabe swung his arms and trumpeted in an impression of a massive African elephant defending an endangered white rhino in a wildlife refuge.
He was illustrating a story about a group of young elephants in the refuge attacking the rhinos over and over. No one knew how to stop it.
Then scientists realized that there were no mature elephants around to teach the young ones. The problem? There was only enough money to bring in six big elephants.
But it turned out that’s all it took. When six older, bigger elephants were brought in, they set the example for the little guys.
The audience was focused on Cabe’s intense gaze coming from behind his black-framed glasses when he delivered the final line.
“Six big elephants. Not one dead rhino,” he said.
Cabe spoke in the Warrior Gym on Monday morning as the opener of a three-day workshop called “Bringing Down the Walls.” The series is an effort to teach students how to build campus climate and community, and to respect themselves and others. Bringing Cabe to Galt to lead the workshops cost approximately $9,000.
Twenty students were identified by their teachers and school administrators as leaders. They joined 20 leaders from Liberty Ranch High School for an intimate workshop on understanding how their actions impact others. Today and on Wednesday, 400 total students will participate in similar groups.
The event is part of a response to the high number of fights among Galt High students this year. In the first six weeks of school, students were involved in more on-campus fistfights than all of the 2010-2011 school year.
“We needed to stop what we were doing, look at that behavior, and put a stop to it,” said Principal Maria Orr, who says students themselves will drive the changes to campus climate.
Cabe, who is based in Littleton, Colo., tours the nation speaking to middle and high school audiences 140 days out of each year.
“It’s the only avenue I’ve found that reaches the most kids in the least time,” he said of his grueling schedule.
For students, Cabe offered simple tests for each student to see what kind of elephant he or she was.
“If you get a mean, ugly text message and you delete it, you’re a big elephant. If you add a comment and forward it to 10 of your friends, that’s a little elephant,” he said.
Cabe explained that many students are mean to others in an attempt to be clever or to impress their friends. But it’s impossible to know what else someone might be dealing with that day. His daughter loved princesses, but all it took was one nasty joke to make the little girl take off her tiara for good, he said.
His solutions were just as simple.
“Be nice,” said Cabe. “At a minimum, do no harm.”
Cabe, who acknowledged his high expectations of his audience, cannot understand why students do not have the same expectations for themselves.
“I have the bar set so high. I believe you can do better,” he said.
Most students respond positively to his message from the start, said Cabe.
“Then their response is reactionary. They want to be a change agent,” he said.
Before their workshop began, student leaders said they found the presentation relatable and honest.
“He used personal examples that related to us. It showed how we could apply this in our own life,” said senior Lia Vanegmond.
Others connected well with Cabe’s message.
“He didn’t just tell us to be nice. He gave us a reason why,” said Aimee Georguson, a senior.
Orr is adamant that students have the right to feel safe and comfortable on campus.
“If they’re not feeling safe in the classroom, they’re not going to learn,” she said.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.