Essence Smith was wearing her blue jacket as she waited Monday before the start of classes at the front of St. James High School, where staff and students kicked off Stomp Out Bullying week by wearing blue for Anti-Bullying Day.
I dont have much blue in my clothes, but I wanted to show support, said Smith, 14, who is a freshman. I know bullying leads to things like suicide, and I dont like to see that kind of thing happen.
Her friend, Laurencia Schmitt, took the color further, wearing a blue plaid shirt and bright blue pants. The 14-year-old said she was participating because she was bullied in elementary school, and she thinks the focus on anti-bullying helps students learn to respect each other.
Junior Alyssa Privitera also was sporting blue, along with an anti-bullying wrist band, because she also has experienced bullying in her life. She said the schools initiative, now in its third year, has made students more comfortable with supporting other students and helping them stand up to bullies.
Stomp Out Bullying is one of many organizations nationwide that aim to prevent bullying and cyber-bullying, deter school violence and provide education against hatred.
St. James senior Patrick Kohlmann, an ambassador for the program, pushed for the first event at the school three years ago. He said the event has caught on at other area high schools and now has become an integral part of St. James.
There used to be a shock factor, like, [Bullying] goes on in our school? but kids realize it does go on, Kohlmann said. Kids are more educated about it now, which was the whole point of the event in the first place.
Bullying is defined as unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance, according to stopbullying.com, which is managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time and includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.
Bullying has gained national attention in the last several years, and October was named National Bullying Prevention Month by PACERs National Bullying Prevention Center. The issue was brought home to Horry County in 2010 when Christian Helms, then 14, took a handgun and two homemade bombs to Socastee High School where a shot was fired at the school resource officer. School bullying was cited as a cause of the depression from which Helms suffered, although his mother, Traci Helms, said in a recent letter to the editor that it did not cause his actions.
Last year, 20.1 percent of students nationwide were bullied on school property, according to a Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance report by the DHHS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said that number has remained fairly constant since 2009, when 19.9 percent were bullied. During the same period, 16.2 percent of students nationwide were electronically bullied through e-mails, chat rooms, instant messages, websites or texting.
In Horry County Schools, a total of 244 cases of bullying were reported last year, according to the district. Kelly Kelley, risk manager for the Georgetown County School District, said the district does not have accurate information on the number of reported bullying cases because previous incidents have not all been classified in the same way, but they are working on fixing that process.
Kelley said Georgetown-area schools had classes on bullying last year, and they all have signs posted with an anonymous hotline number that students can call if they are experiencing problems. She said the district was unable to organize an anti-bullying event for this year but is looking toward a Challenge Day at the high schools for next year, which would address various issues that occur in a high school environment, including drugs and bullying. A local youth group, Service Over Self, also plans to build a Safe Zone near Georgetown Middle and High schools where kids can relax, away from troubles such as bullying.
At St. James High, Principal Vann Pennell said the schools anti-bullying activities which will extend to a Blue Out at its football game Friday have fostered an appreciation for different lifestyles.
The kids have done a really good job embracing the concept of individuals, compassion and concern about each other, he said.
St. James is not alone in its efforts against bullying.
Other schools in Horry County have taken different paths to the same goal of educating students about bullying at all grade levels.
Three years ago, Pee Dee Elementary School in Conway established an anti-bullying committee of teachers, parents and students, and each class has two student representatives, known as Bully Busters, who are trained on how to recognize, refuse and report bullying behaviors, according to Principal Cheryl Banks. She said with an 87 percent poverty rate, the school has taken many measures to obtain resources, including writing grants and establishing a partnership with Coastal Carolina University, which has adopted the school to help with bullying issues.
Banks said as a result of their efforts, overall school discipline referrals have dropped by 41 percent, and bullying referrals have decreased by 53 percent in the past two years.
A group of students at Myrtle Beach Intermediate School have taken the initiative to form a Bully Buddies group to support anti-bullying efforts and to help other students who are experiencing bullying problems. Principal Dana Penick said addressing bullying falls under every part of the Covey program that the Myrtle Beach cluster schools are following, and the group is encouraging students to wear purple, an anti-bullying color, every Thursday, something thats spreading to the other schools.
Other efforts range from The Power of Words program that launched last year at Black Water Middle School to a Say No to Bullying assembly that will be held Oct. 19 at Palmetto Bays Elementary School, where their Bully Pledge is recited daily. Ocean Bay Middle School even held a Town Hall meeting on bullying last year with its eighth-graders, which was modeled on a CNN program by Anderson Cooper. Assistant Principal Kurt Lundgren said the student-run program made a definite impact on the kids, and the school has been recognized by the PACER organization for its schoolwide activities.
Loris Elementary School is starting its second year of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, where staff members are trained in the program, and a lesson on bullying is taught in class once a week. Principal Mark Porter said his students are told to stand tall, dont fall (for a prank) and tell all, and students who report incidents can earn rewards. The school also keeps a tally of any incidences and targets the areas where they occur.
This program provides us with language for teachers, students and parents to use, because some dont really know what bullying is, said Principal Mark Porter. We just keep the language open every day, and we feel the kids can identify.
Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.