Every October, schools and organizations across the country join in observing National Bullying Prevention Month. The goal is to encourage communities to work together to stop bullying and cyberbullying by increasing awareness of the prevalence and impact of bullying on all children of all ages.
According to the ‘Do Something,’ anti-bullying organization, over 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year. This causes approximately 160,000 teens to skip school every day, to avoid their bullies and 1 in 1o students will dropout due to repeated bullying.
This month, the Daily Times will be focusing on local school districts and organizations about their bullying policies and the support offered to students who are victims.
After being haunted by the story of Michael Brewer, a 15 year old who was set on fire by bullies in 2009, Brenda Strickland decided it was time to do something.
“I remember watching it on the National News that morning, it was all over a DVD,” said Strickland. “I’m standing in my living room and it came on and I just thought, ‘oh my gosh, how did this happen? Where were those parents? What lead the kids to the idea of throwing alcohol on another child and then light a match and set them on fire and think that was okay?’ He had to run to the neighbors pool to try and get into water to keep from dying. My heart broke for him for being burned, now he has physical, emotional, all those scars but it also hurt for those being brought into the courtroom. They were in these bright orange jumpsuits that were way too big for them – because they were little. What got them to that place? Why couldn’t someone somehow, planted a seed of kindness?”
Strickland set out to educated students and area youth on bullying and bullying prevention. She started with a simple talk about how to resolve conflicts with words, rather than physical violence. She eventually went on to teach in Elementary Schools and is serving in her second year as a third-grade teacher at Clay Elementary.
She also assists in Clay’s after-school care program, known as after-school mall, where she speaks to different groups of students. The mini-lessons teach students about bullying and how to be kind to their classmates, teachers, siblings and parents.
“We don’t always have time to fit it in to our regular classrooms,” said Strickland. “We have to focus on the standards and there just isn’t enough time in the day to fit it all in. But we do videos, we have songs, and storybooks. I try to do as much as I can.”
On October 5, Strickland spoke to students in second and first grades about how to be a ‘Bucket Filler,’ and kind words.
“You can either be a bucket-filler or a bucket-dipper,” explained Strickland. “We all have hearts, and when you say something nice to someone, you fill up their hearts. But when you say something mean, you hurt their feelings and it empties their bucket, they get sad.”
Strickland started the lesson with a beach bucket, full of various items, and asked the students to share a time in their life where they experienced bullying. As the students shared their experiences, Strickland removed items from the bucket. When the bucket was all empty, she asked the students to share experiences of when they were kind to someone, or someone was kind to them.
“My grandpa had a hurt back and I helped him walk,” said one student, and Strickland added an item back to the bucket.
The students also participated in a demonstration about the impact that words can have. One student squeezed toothpaste out of a tube onto a paper plate. The students all giggled at the absurdity, and laughed as their classmate continued the mess.
Strickland then asked the student to try and put the toothpaste back in the tube. After struggling for a few moments, the students realized the gravity if the situation, the toothpaste would never be able to go back to normal.
“It means, if you say something mean that you can’t put it back in, and you can’t take it back after you hurt someone,” said a student named Derrick.
According to Strickland, she has seen growth in the students and an increase in positive behaviors.
“I try to educate them on how to be nice, sometimes a student will say something mean, just because they’re having a bad day, not necessarily because they’re a bully, but the kids are learning not to lash out and say something back. I always tell them, ‘stop, think, peace.’ Stop the situation, think about the situation, and resolve it peacefully. Now they say it to me whenever they see me in the hallways.”
Reach Ciara Conley at 740-981-6977, Facebook “Ciara Conley - Daily Times,” and Twitter @PDT_Ciara.