Youths educate others on prevention of bullying

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Sherwood High School students are continuing to stand up to bullies by implementing their bullying prevention program, ‘‘You Have the Power!” at Belmont Elementary School.

With a $550 grant from Youth Service America⁄Youth Venture, the Sherwood students — members of the Olney area youth groups Project Change and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) — first presented the program at Rosa Parks Middle School last spring.

The result was a videotaped public service announcement featuring the middle school students acting in a series of skits portraying bullying and how to deal with it in a variety of situation.

This year, the high school students enlisted the help of these same middle school students who, in turn, mentored the Belmont students to produce a series of public service announcements geared to elementary school students.

‘‘Today you get to see the product after three months of hard work,” said Project Change student president Sarika Tamaskar, who introduced the videotape at Belmont Elementary School last Thursday. ‘‘There was so much energy in the room during production, with students from the age of 10 to 18 working together.”

With the rise in gang activity in Montgomery County and the new state requirement for county boards of education to report incidents of harassment or intimidation under the Safe Schools Reporting Act of 2005, state, county and local school officials have taken notice of this program of ‘‘youth educating youth” about bullying.

‘‘I’ve heard wonderful things about this program,” said Charles Haughey, president of the Montgomery County Board of Education, who attended the event. ‘‘It’s a wonderful activity.”

John McGinnis, a specialist in Student and School Services with the Maryland Department of Education said he ‘‘jumped at the chance” to represent State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick at the event.

Also in attendance from the county and local schools were Stephen Zagami, director of student services for MCPS; Kent Weaver, head of guidance for MCPS; Rita Rumbaugh, MCPS program manager for the Safe and Drug-free Schools program; Katherine Harrison, assistant director of the MCPS Department of Communications; Susan Marks, county supervisor for the Northeast Consortium and Sherwood Cluster; and Sherwood High School Principal John Yore, Sherwood High School Assistant Principal Renee Brimfield, Rosa Parks Principal Sarah Pinkney-Murkey, Belmont Elementary Principal Peter Bray and Belmont Elementary Principal Intern Shahid Muhammad.

Montgomery County State’s Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler accepted Belmont Elementary School student Chris Swindler’s personal invitation to attend the event.

‘‘I’m the parent of a third- and fifth-grader, who have on occasion been bullied, and I was a young boy once,” Gansler said. ‘‘I’m glad to see that this program not only recognizes the victims but also the bullies, who are perhaps the saddest of all. Perhaps through this mentoring program we can help them, too.

‘‘It’s my job to take people who break the law and punish them,” Gansler said to the audience, which included elementary school students. ‘‘More than half the people who land in jail by the age of 24 were bullies. Their crimes escalate.”

Gansler defined the three components in a bullying situation.

‘‘There are the bullies, who are sometimes the cool kids who are liked or perhaps just feared; there are those being bullied; and there are bystanders who watch it happen,” he said. ‘‘Don’t pretend you don’t see it. You can at least befriend the victim. Everyone has something valuable in them.”

The next step toward further implementation of the ‘‘You Have the Power!” program is for the Project Change members to develop a how-to guide to instruct other high school students on how they can launch the bullying prevention program in their own schools.

With donations from Montgomery General Hospital and the Carl M. Freeman Foundation, and with the help of MCPS Instructional TV personnel, Project Change plans to package and distribute the program throughout the state of Maryland, said co-president Robyn Holstein-Glass, who together with Project Change’s Dorothy Kane worked closely with the students to implement the ‘‘You Have the Power!” program at both Rosa Parks Middle School and Belmont Elementary School.

‘‘This program is capturing the attention of educators, parents and community leaders,” Holstein-Glass said. ‘‘This is all about youth mentoring youth and saying you have the power to stop bullying in your school and community.”

Audrey Partington is an adult leader of Project Change in Olney. For more information, visit the organization’s Web site at