By Jennika Baines
Sun Associate Editor
Sticks and stones are nothing compared to cell phones and keyboards.
Bullying has come roaring into the 21st century with social networking websites like Twitter and Facebook giving students new ways to broadcast cruel and intimidating messages to wider audiences.
But a group of students at Bishop Ludden Jr./Sr. High School has started a campaign to end bullying at their school. The campaign includes monthly programs and special events to keep the “A.B.C. (Anti-bullying campaign)” in the forefront of students’ minds.
Sophomore Nanette McMahon-White said the Internet has had a huge effect on how students are bullied now.
“It’s anonymity. You can be anyone,” she said. “With Twitter you can come up with a false name and come up with all these horrendous things to say about someone and it’s out there for everyone to see and no one knows who you are.”
Sophomore Anna Matthews nodded. She said years ago bullying relied on face-to-face interactions and a student might be able to avoid the bully. “Now you don’t always know who it is and you don’t know who to stay away from,” she said.
As part of the group’s campaign, a creative expression contest was held which encouraged students to submit a poem, an essay, a song, a drawing or a video. Entries were submitted in a national anti-bullying contest as well. The winners of the Bishop Ludden contest received prizes like dress-down days and gift certificates to the cinema.
The awards were presented at a special talk on cyber bullying given by a member of the Syracuse district attorney’s office. One presentation for students took place during the school day on March 8; another for parents took place in the evening.
The students in the anti-bullying group were inspired to take action after reading an article in Kristen Borrell’s class on teen suicides resulting from bullying. Borrell, a health teacher, said the students were asked to give reports on the articles they read, and she was impressed by the response to the article on bullying.
“And I was talking to the students about it, and we just thought, ‘What are we going to do? We’ve got to do something,’” Borrell said. She hand-picked the members of the group based on their interest, abilities and past experiences. “I had them as seventh graders. I picked them because I knew that they all had a lot of empathy,” she said.
Elise Briedis, a sophomore, transferred to Bishop Ludden partly to escape bullying at her former school.
“I was bullied a lot at my last school,” Elise said. “But my first day here everybody was coming up to me asking who I was and where I was coming from. It was good.”
Now if she were bullied, she said she would stand up for herself. “But then I couldn’t deal with it. I just didn’t have the strength to deal with it,” she said. “I wouldn’t even go to school. If it happened now I wouldn’t let them drag me out of school.”
Breanna Bacon, a junior, also transferred to Bishop Ludden from another school. She said that at her former school she was teased for doing well in school and for not having the right shoes or the right hair.
“There were times when I felt like I wanted to kill myself, that nobody cared. But I dealt with it then by writing in my journal,” she said. “But it helps me to help someone else because I know exactly what they’re going through. And now I feel like there’s people I can actually talk to who can understand where I’m coming from.”
Sophomore Emily Stott knows what it’s like to be bullied as well. “I wish I would have stood up when I had the chance, because then I would go home and just break down. I didn’t even tell my mom because how was I going to do that? So you go into this dark place that you can never get out of,” she said.
Patti Schramm, a school counselor at Bishop Ludden, said she was overjoyed when Borrell came to her with the idea to start the group.
“She brought it to me to get a group going and I thought that was a great idea. I feel like I’m putting out fires a lot of the time, and when she came to me with these beautiful young people I thought, ‘Yay!’” Schramm said.
Breanna and Nanette spoke before a faculty meeting and some other members of the group had a table with information for parents at a recent open house. Nanette made a video with clips of students talking about their experiences with bullying. The video is being put onto a DVD to show at the school. The group also sold carnations, put posters around the school with affirming messages and will be selling bracelets that read, “The end of bullying begins with me.”
The members of the group also act as peer advocates. When a student is bullied and doesn’t feel comfortable going to a member of the staff to report it, they can talk instead to one of the students in the group. The student advocates will talk to the students about their experiences and report the bully to a faculty member. Then teachers and administrators are on alert to keep an eye out for that particular behavior from a student. The bullying student is caught in the act, and the victim of the bullying doesn’t have to worry about being considered a tattle-tale.
“But we do tell them that there’s a boundary on that,” Schramm said. “No one here is dealing with something they shouldn’t be dealing with.”
Borrell said she’s pleased with how well the group has been doing and the cooperation it has received both from students and from the administration. “We’re hoping to keep this going and we’re hoping to make this bigger,” she said.
And the students in the group say they have learned some valuable lessons about self-worth and accepting others.
“We all have insecurities,” Emily said, “and when people pick at that it’s like, ‘Why? What’s the point of that?’”
Nanette said she recently attended a confirmation retreat and got thinking about the bullying campaign. “We’re all different. If we were all the same it’d be really boring,” she said. “It’s like Jesus said, ‘Why point out my flaws when I have the same flaws you do?’”
I am the one
By Katy Vadala
Senior, Bishop Ludden High School
I am the one you bully day after day,
The one who never has anything to say.
I am the one you love to hate,
The one you made fun of because of my weight.
I am the one who sat alone,
The one who never got well known.
I am the one who dreaded going to school,
The one who could never be cool.
I am the one you always made cry,
The one who always asks why.
I am the one living in fear
The one who wants to disappear.
I am the one you never got to know,
The one who never got to show,
That I have feelings too,
And I was a person just like you.