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No tolerance for bullying

No tolerance for bullying
Numerous films are filled with dramatic endings in which the main character, who’s been given a hard time throughout the plot by a certain antagonist, stands up for himself. Unfortunately, in real life, most cases of bullying cannot be so easily solved.
The Weakley County School System has now partnered with the Weakley County Juvenile Court to introduce the Street Law program – an evidence-based program of anti-bullying prevention education covering bullying and cyber-bullying with the curriculum of “Stand up, speak out.”
Carly Turner Wheat, juvenile court office manager and probation officer, will make weekly visits to sixth-and seventh-graders across the county.
She is currently visiting sixth-graders from August through December and will visit seventh-graders January through May. A pre-test and post-test are given to determine knowledge of the subject.
“Bullying prevention efforts are not new, but with the recent national attention on bullying, last spring we decided to bring awareness to a higher level on the local front,” Lorna Benson of Safe and Drug-Free Schools said. “We’ve been sending staff to bullying prevention training in an attempt to make students aware of what is and what isn’t bullying.”
With the growing popularity of computer social networks such as Facebook, cyber-bullying has come to the forefront and Benson, Wheat and school social worker Brittany Mangiaracinia agreed that this, essentially, takes away the “safe haven” feeling of being at home.
The cyber-bully pops up on the computer screen with threatening messages and has the advantage of hiding behind the cover of anonymity. According to Wheat, the topic of cyber-bullying always prompts the most questions from students and teachers.
“The teachers are getting the same lessons as the students,” Wheat said. “They pay attention and stay active during the discussion. They’re supportive of the program and they’re always asking questions.”
After this first year concludes, committee members will evaluate pre-tests and post-tests and tweak what parts of the program need improving.
Wheat explained that sixth-and seventh- graders were chosen as the target group for the program because they are old enough to comprehend getting into social networks, yet young enough to still be impressionable.
“Cyber-bullying is using harmful words over the Internet or on cell phones, whether it be using threats or sending inappropriate pictures. It’s intended to do harm,” Wheat explained. “I always stress to students to print the messages, save them and tell someone they trust. They have the option to block the person, but they still should print the messages too, so the messages can be shown to parents or trusted friends or relatives.”
“Facebook also has a ‘report’ button to include a comment that will be sent back to the company,” she added. “We’ve also discussed when to contact the police on an issue. If a person is scared to leave the house because the messages or threats are so bad, that’s the time to consider contacting the police. But, a student must also understand the difference between reporting and snitching.”
Wheat makes sure students know they can leave notes with the teacher and take advantage of anonymous tip lines on web pages.
“We’re already making an impact,” Wheat said. “I can already tell a difference. The students are opening up. I make myself available every week and I tell the students, ‘How can it get better if you never tell? It can only get better.”
“We’re not battling alone,” Mangiaracinia added.
“There are resources within the school such as SROs, guidance counselors, social workers and the mentoring program, but we must be told about the incidences. We can’t help if we don’t know. We’re not mind readers.”
Martin Middle School principal Nate Holms has already seen success with the school’s positive behavior program and he is confident the anti-bullying program will follow in its footsteps.
“It fits right in. I’ve already seen a big difference,” Holmes said. “I’ve talked to Carly (Wheat) and there have been fewer instances reported. Most of the bullying was happening in the sixth grade and we had one incident, but those students went through the program. We have our motto here and one of the points is to ‘Be kind’ and you can’t be a bully and be kind. I’m glad Carly is here. Parents can always know that kids are protected at school.”
Fran Spears, a teacher and cheerleading coach at MMS, also expressed optimism in the program.
“It’s a great opportunity for students to find out more information and be open with us as things happen,” she said.
Though the program is in its infancy, more than enough enthusiastic committee members are standing by to make sure it reaches its full potential and students take advantage of it to the fullest extent.
A story illustration by Benson summed up the entire idea.
A man noticed a young girl picking up starfish stranded on the seashore and tossing them back into the sea.
“You can’t save them all. You can’t make a difference to all of them,” he told her.
“I made a difference to that one,” she replied as she continued to toss them.
The issues of bullying and cyber-bullying are large and widespread, but representatives from Weakley County are determined to give each and every student the opportunity to make a difference.

WCP 10.25.11

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