Great Oak Assistant Principal Judy Stapleton began her career as the school district did and has now retired from Temecula Valley Unified School District with the closure of the 2016-2017 school year, completing 30 years of service and a citywide campaign against bullying.
With only two schools open in rural Temecula, Stapleton played a pivotal role in 1987. She worked at both Vail Elementary and Temecula Middle School, eventually working full time at the middle school as a music teacher.
“I think two years before I started, students were riding horses to middle school,” Stapleton said.
As plans were made to open Great Oak High School in 2004, she was working on her administrative credentials and applied for a position. She was hired as an assistant principal. She and the other original staff were given the opportunity to create the traditions and foundation of the new school.
With her focus on discipline at the high school level, many students came to her about bullying, Stapleton said. She was inspired to create a program that would combat bullying.
“Funny how things happen, I was flipping through a course catalog, and there was a little ceramic wall plaque. The message was really simple, and I got a little sad that there was an entire market reminding people that being nice matters,” Stapleton explained.
After speaking to Michael Hubbard, the director of Child Welfare and Attendance, the two administrators began planning a weeklong program against bullying called “Because Nice Matters,” similar in set up to Red Ribbon Week, the week that campaigns against drug use. Stapleton piloted the program at Great Oak, working with the Wolfpack Student Body adviser Don Skaggs and Peer Leaders Adviser Lisa Balka to create activities with the students. The team designated the colors black and purple for the week to symbolize the internal bruising and impact from bullying. One student came up with a spirit day for the last day of the week for students to wear all white representing making a clean start.
Stapleton went to Superintendent Tom Ritter with the plan two years later to present the program district wide. At that time, the director of Transportation, Jason Osborne, came up with the concept of the “Because Nice Matters” bus. The bus rotates through the three Temecula high school art departments to be decorated for each new year. Elementary and middle school principals would schedule a bus visit and plan activities around it. Osborne reported lots of positive feedback from the community.
With the community success, the city approached the district about incorporating “Because Nice Matter” into the city program: Temecula Has Heart. A member of the community Pete Giummo of Tri-Lakes Sportswear printed out shirts for all the student government emissaries, teachers in the district and the city council out of his own pocket, Stapleton said. Eventually, the city contributed to creating a large marquee on the freeway to emphasize Nice Matters with purples and blues.
The program’s success is attributed to the groups throughout the community that have taken part. The “Because Nice Matters” rally highlights feeder schools by bringing them to Great Oak with a paper chain made of nice deeds students have done for each other. The students parade with the chain and hear speeches from various high school students and partake in carnival games.
“I’m leaving behind a lot of people who are highly committed,” Stapleton said. “We’ll never get rid of bullying, but we can make them more mindful and realize that there are people there to help them. This is not something they have to shoulder on their own.”
Her idea is now embedded into the community and is an integral part of the school culture. In her time at the district, Judy Stapleton has taken individual teachers, advisors and city leaders and made them a team.