Students tackle bullying at Olney schools
Apr. 27, 2005
Terri Hogan
Staff Writer

Sherwood High School students teamed up with students at Rosa Parks Middle School to take a stand against bullying in the greater Olney community.

The Sherwood students, members of Project Change and Students Against Destructive Decisions, or SADD, recently presented a bullying prevention program entitled "You Have the Power!" to the students and faculty of Rosa Parks.

Project Change, a group of students and adults working to offer programs and activities for youth, developed the bullying program with a grant of $550 from Youth Service America and Youth Venture in the hopes of reducing bullying and other types of violence in schools.

The problem

Youngsters have been pushing others around since the beginning of time, yet bullying is more than kids being kids, parents and school officials say. Bullying can be defined as behavior that is aggressive, persistent or intended to hurt another person.

Although people often think of bullying as physical, or, as some of the Rosa Parks students suggested, putting someone in a locker or sticking his head into the toilet, most bullying incidents do not involve physical interaction.

More predominant forms of bullying include name-calling, teasing, gossiping, spreading rumors, social exclusion or cyber-bullying.

According to an article in the April 18 issue of Time Magazine, 47 percent of sixth-graders said they were bullied at least once in the course of five school days.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration Web site reports that children and youth who are bullied are more likely than other children to be depressed, lonely and anxious, have low self-esteem, feel unwell and think about suicide.

Those who partake in bullying are more likely to be involved in criminal behavior, get into frequent fights, be injured in a fight, vandalize or steal property, drink alcohol, smoke, be truant from school, drop out of school and carry a weapon, the Web site reports.

"Studies show that hundreds of thousands of youth may stay home from school on any given day because they fear being bullied," said Stephanie Bryn, a captain in the U.S. Public Health Service who focuses on injury and violence prevention programs. Bryn is also an adult adviser to Project Change.

And girls are not immune to being bullied, or doing the bullying.

A former Rockville resident who tackled the issue of bullying in a best-selling book saw the issue transformed into a Lifetime television movie earlier this month.

The show, based on Rachel Simmons' New York Times bestseller "Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls," featured a teenager who is suddenly ostracized by her best friend and her popular allies over a boy.

The situation becomes dire when she attempts to commit suicide by taking an overdose of medication after continual harassment in school and online. Only after that incident did her school seriously address the bullying.

The production paralleled the book and showed the secretive nature of girls' behavior when they are bullying someone even while trying to maintain some level of friendship, she said.

Girls do this because they are socialized to be nice and don't have a lot of skills to negotiate conflict effectively, she added.

"This is a culture that does not really define these behaviors as bullying," Simmons said. By saying "that's how girls are," they are not raised to know that this type of aggression is unacceptable, she added.

Because of these societal responses, a bully may not always recognize she is being a bully and a victim may not recognize she is being victimized, Simmons said.

"Bullying is definitely a problem," Rosa Parks Principal Sarah Pinkney-Murkey agreed. "We identified it as a problem three years ago, and developed a strategic plan. Since we put our program into place, incidents have not stopped, but have decreased tremendously."

Project Change member Sarika Tamaskar, 16, said she got the idea of presenting a program on bullying after attending a conference of the National Organization for Youth Safety.

Tamaskar said members of Project Change and Sherwood's SADD chapter worked with Rosa Parks Middle School students to develop a series of skits to raise awareness of bullying.

The action

Working closely with Dr. Renee Brimfield, assistant principal at Sherwood High School, and Rosa Parks Assistant Principal Paul Kurth, Project Change students recruited a diverse group of young people to participate in the program.

The selected Rosa Parks students represented a broad cross-section, including different races, ethnicities, those that are academically gifted and those that are academically challenged.

"There were children who have never been to the office, and some that are in there every week," Pinkney-Murkey said. "They did great and really made an impact on our school."

The Project Change students began having weekly lunch meetings with the Rosa Parks students in January.

"It was really terrific seeing the high school students working with the middle school students," Project Change adult officer Robyn Holstein-Glass said. "The high school students really took control, and the middle school students really related better to them than they would have to parents or adults."

The students came up with skits that portrayed bullying in various forms, which were acted out by the students ad videotaped.

Once the eight-minute video was completed, with assistance of television production students from Sherwood and staff members from both schools, it was shown to all Rosa Parks students and discussion followed.

Pinkney-Murkey said that seeing their classmates in the video "brought it home" to the Rosa Parks students.

The reaction

"Today gave me a good sense of hope," Assistant Principal Kurth said the day of the program. "The kids were so pumped up to help other kids. Bullying will only stop when kids change their mindset. No matter what we do as adults won't matter until kids change their minds."

Kurth said he hopes that after seeing the video, Rosa Parks students will want to be role models and step in when an incident arises.

"I think they have ownership now, and really know the importance of ending bullying," he said.

Robert O'Neil, a seventh-grader, said he learned a lot about bullying by participating in the program.

"I learned that bullying isn't just physical, it is more often teasing and name calling," he said.

Samantha Bloom, also a seventh-grader, agreed.

"We learned that girls bully just as much as boys, if not more," she said. "It also includes talking behind backs, passing notes or excluding people."

Because of the program, Bloom said she already has seen changes.

"I think people are more aware now of what they are doing and how it will make other people feel," she said. "They probably weren't aware that they were doing it before."

O'Neill said that parts of the program hit home for him, since he was the victim of bullying at a previous school.

"It wasn't very serious, but I did feel the affects of being put down," he said. "Working on this project was a great experience, and I hope that kids learn from it."

Hailey Banda, a sixth-grader, said the majority of the students in her class were very focused on the video.

"It was really creative and showed how people can help other people," she said.

Chris Costantino, a Rosa Parks seventh-grader, said he found the video to be very powerful.

"Seeing our friends on the video will give us more courage to come out and stop bullying," he said.

Costantino said he does not think a lot of bullying occurs at Rosa Parks.

"When it does happen, I don't think it occurs to the kids that they are doing it," he said. "If they figure that out, this school will be perfect."

The hope

Youth Service America is a resource center that partners with other organizations to create volunteer opportunities for young people who wish to serve locally, nationally and globally.

Youth Venture is a national nonprofit organization that helps young people ages 12 to 20 launch clubs, organizations or initiatives that improve their communities.

Youth Venture representatives Meghan Young and Katie Sumners said they were attracted to the project because it involved youths leading other youths, known as peer-to-peer mentoring.

"Bullying is a nationwide problem, but these kids clearly get the big picture of why they need to stop it in middle school," Sumner said. "What it is all about is how changing something in one spot can lead to bigger and bigger things."

Seventh-grader Bloom agreed.

"I want to bring an awareness to the whole country," she said. "If a small group like us can make a change at this school, then a bigger group can make bigger changes."

Pinkney-Murkey said she plans to follow up on the program.

"We'll try to tie it in with our counseling goals, and I'd like to see it expanded to the elementary schools that feed into Rosa Parks," she said. "I'd love to see the alignment of elementary, middle and high school students all participating in an anti-bullying program."

One of the requirements for the Youth Venture grant was that it be a long-term, sustainable program.

The students also will produce a series of public service announcements.

Founded in 1998 by Olney-area high school students, Project Change is a teen-led, adult-supported group committed to improving the health and safety of youth in the community.

"The Project Change kids have targeted an act that is so important to our community," said parent Valerie Spencer, mother to Sherwood junior Kedren Spencer. "They're making great strides and want to change the community, so that's certainly a goal we can get behind. I am very proud of them."

In addition to the students listed above, "You Have the Power!" team members included Adam Glass, Baboucarr Jallow, Blake Gilbert, Carolyn Gerecht, Cody Hysell, Fabio Fernandes, Jeremy Lent, Molly Hines, Obed Contreras, Sarah Hostyk, Kimberly Chidel, Eunice Contreras, Maria Correa, Joshua Hertz, Mellownie Ho, Travis Hyams, Wally-Mady Nadje, William Peters, Jessica Porter, Andrew Ricagno, Cindy Uruburo and Cassie Welch.