Baltimore County schools finished their first-ever Bullying Prevention Week today.
The campaign involved daily, color-coded themes, assemblies, discussions and other activities. The students wore designated colors each day of this week to represent themes such as positivity, unity, empathy, kindness and respect.
On Thursday, Ridgely Middle School eighth-grader Giulia Parsons wore red. It signified the countywide anti-bullying campaign’s theme of the day, respect. “It’s fun to see everybody in their red and stuff,” Parsons said. “I know some of the students are taking it seriously, but I don’t know if everyone is, but let’s hope by the end of the week they are. I mean, everyone should stick up for others being bullied so they won’t feel like they’re alone in a situation.”
Parsons came up with the slogan, “Loving is Louder,” and won an iPad for her efforts. “You hear all the time about bullying situations where people have committed suicide and you never hear about the love that people have for others,” she said. “So, I want to get the message across that love is so much more powerful and louder than bad things and bullying.”
More than 5,200 bullying incidents were reported statewide in the 2011-2012 school year. Baltimore County logged 464 such incidents over the same period. That was down from 510 the previous year.
This year’s Baltimore County Bullying Prevention Week was spearheaded by the district’s Student Advisory Council. Last year, the group organized a one-day anti-bullying event. But council member McKenna Porter says they needed more time to get a stronger message across to students. “I think we need to be saying: understand that bullying...it’s definitely not a good thing, and if you are being bullied, you can always have a place to go through the adults in the community. So any problem is solvable; you just need to let someone know that it’s happening,” Porter said.
Although, Parsons and school officials say bullying is not a major problem at Ridgley, Porter, a senior, says many of her classmates at Hereford High School have been bullied. “I know there’ve been a lot of cases in my school where students have self-harmed or decided to switch school because of bullying,” Porter said. “A lot of the bullying is cyber-bullying. Everything is online. There’s a lot of hateful comments or remarks made toward people’s religion, appearance, likes or dislikes. It’s usually a behind-the-scenes kind of thing, but I have seen some incidents get physical.”
During lunch period at Ridgely, announcements were made to let students know that as part of the "respect" theme of the day, students with Twitter accounts could send out kindly-worded tweets to classmates.
Principal Sue Evans watched her cell phone excitedly as the tweets began to show up. “The first one that’s coming across is 'I love this school; Loving is Louder, at Ridgley Middle,'” Evans said.
Throughout the county, students also participated in classroom discussions on bullying and were asked to sign an anti-bullying pledge. Ridgely’s was posted on the glass walls at the cafeteria’s entrance and had lots of names signed on it. Evans said it will remain there throughout the school year.
“Those who have signed it are pledging to stand up and stand out against bullying. They’re agreeing to never participate in bullying or supporting other people who do, and we expect that to continue,” Evans said.
Wearing a ‘Loving is Louder’ t-shirt, Terry Pryor said he is taking the pledge seriously and the role he can play as a bystander. “When I see that it happens, I try to put a stop to it,” Pryor said. “I’ll confront that person who’s doing the bullying and tell them it’s not nice to do that.”
Eighth-grader Alexander Pentikis, who also sent out a tweet, agreed. “I know some people have been bullied and it’s really important to show your support for them and let them know you’re there for them,” he said.
Jill Jahries, a Ridgely counselor, emphasized that the anti-bullying campaign will not end this week. She said it’s a year-round effort and sees the week’s activities as another means to get students to take bullying seriously. “It is another layer of communication that can only improve our school climate and hopefully that 1,2,10, 20 students has the courage to come forward the next time something is happening, to stick up for someone else, to come and let us know,” Jahries said.
Another way for students to come forward is to fill out newly revised bullying report forms online. It can be done anonymously and they will automatically be sent to a school’s principal. In addition, teachers in the county will be offered a one-credit, in-service course on bullying prevention.