"No More Bullies"
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By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
OCTOBER 4, 2018 – Fifth-grader Victoria Erickson doesn’t want anyone to be bullied.
“I think it’s important not to bully because you never know what people are going through,” Victoria said. “It hurts other people’s feelings.”
October is Bully and Drug Prevention Month for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, and activities are being held at each school.
At Hall-Woodward Elementary on Wednesday afternoon, School Counselor Andrea Woods came to Sarah Rufe’s fifth-grade class to talk with students about bullying.
“Children need to feel safe when they come to school,” Woods said before meeting with the students. “Bullying affects children every age – every grade – and it keeps them from being successful in school when they are worried about who is going to bully them. They can’t focus on school.”
When she met with the students, topics included what students think is and is not bullying, whether they have ever been bullied, and why they think it’s important not to bully.
Toward the end of the session, Woods invited students to sign a sheet that says they will not bully anyone and will encourage others to refrain from bullying.
She also invited each student to write something about bullying on a strip of paper that would be looped together with other strips to create a giant “Friendship Bracelet.”
On her strip of paper, Yeshlie Cosme wrote: “No More Bullies.”
After taking it to the front of the classroom, she helped other students staple their strips into loops, creating an ever-growing chain.
Ayeka O’Connell wrote: “No Bullys in This World.”
On hers, Brittany Moreno wrote: “Stop Bullying. God Will Protect You.”
When the students talked earlier, one particularly illuminating topic was what they think is and is not bullying. When Woods asked whether bullying can just be dismissed as teasing, some students said they thought that was true.
One girl thought bullying is just a normal part of growing up.
Students shared examples of times when they had been bullied. Yeshlie said that, when she was in third grade, she wore pigtails, and some people bullied her by pulling on them. They tried to pretend it was just for fun but it made her feel bad.
These days, cyberbullying is increasingly becoming a problem, and several students talked about bullying texts that they had received.
The students were unanimous in saying that it is not OK to bully someone. But, when Woods asked them whether they could be considered babies for telling an adult about being bullied, one boy said he thought they could.
Often students are reluctant to speak up, Woods said, so it’s important for everyone to understand that it’s not tattling – that it’s OK – to tell an adult about being bullied.
Sometimes, bullies keep people from reporting them by threatening to do something even more hurtful if they tell, Woods said. Don't let that stop you from telling an adult.
In the past, the school system has held a walk where people from the schools throughout the district and from the community came together to stand up against bullying and express their support for treating everyone with kindness.
Woods said that she likes shifting the focus to the individual schools this year.
“We’re talking to the students personally,” she said.
For her, working to make every student in the school feel cared for and supported will continue after October.
For one, she is in the process of establishing a Peer Ambassador Program.
“There will be ambassadors in every class,” she said.
The ambassadors will take responsibility for welcoming new students, for sitting with students who might seem lonely at lunch, and for reporting bullies if the person being bullied doesn’t say anything to an adult.
“Everybody needs a friend,” she said.
In essence, Elijah McClary nominated himself for the role of becoming an ambassador when the program is established by talking about how he wants to help others. It’s important not to bully, Elijah said.
“It hurts other people’s feelings,” he said.
Before she left, Woods gave students a strip of paper that could easily fit into a pocket that offers suggestions for dealing with the prospect of being targeted by a bully. Suggestions include:
“Say, ‘Whatever!’ as a way to deflect what the bully says
“Walk away” without giving the bully the satisfaction of a response
“Travel in a group”
The idea is to keep the strip in a place where you can refer to it if you get nervous about the prospect of coming up a bully.
Toward the end of the session, Woods did a survey asking such questions as how many students have been bullied and how many students have witnessed bullying at Hall-Woodward. At the end of the month, she plans to ask those same questions again. The hope is that the answers will reveal that bullying is less of a problem.
Reducing the incidents of bullying would really help students focus on what matters at school, Rufe said.
Earlier, Principal Kenneth Jordan made the point that, at Hall-Woodward, they have zero tolerance for bullying. It’s important for students to feel safe and comfortable when they come to school, he said.
“I want to emphasize that it’s important for us to come to school to have fun, to have friends and to learn.”
Woods has been visiting one class at a time. By the time she and Eugenia Saahir, the other School Counselor at Hall-Woodward, are done, they will have visited every class in the school.
Other activities are planned. During Spirit Week, which begins Oct. 22, each day will have a theme.
On Monday, students will “Give Bullies the Boot!” by wearing boots.
On Tuesday, they will “Sock Out Cyber Bullying” by wearing crazy socks.
Wednesday is Unity Day, and everyone is invited to wear something orange to show their support for being “United in Acceptance and Kindness.”
On Thursday, students are invited to wear their favorite team’s jersey to show they will “Be Part of the No Bully Team!”