HAMLET — Some Richmond County students are working to put bullying in its place.
In a special family night gathering Thursday at Fairview Heights Elementary School, parents and guardians joined forces with Richmond County Communities in Schools (CIS) for a dynamic presentation on why it is important to report bullying to a trusted adult.
Fairview Heights CIS site coordinator Emily Nicholson opened the meeting, held in the school cafeteria, with a welcome message as students and parents enjoyed sub sandwiches and beverages.
“I am mainly here tonight to give an overview of the program for parents who might not know what it is we do for the kids,” she said. “The mission of CIS is to surround students with a community of support to keep them in school and achieve in life.”
Nicholson then introduced and turned the floor over to guest speaker Shirley Townsend, of North Carolina Mentor.
“One in three people is a bully,” Townsend said. “Can you tell me what a bully is?”
A few of the two dozen students shot their hands into the air, answering when called on. The general consensus was that a bully is someone mean.
“Who are the worst bullies?” Townsend asked, “Boys, or girls?”
This time, the students shouted in unison.
“Well, let me tell you, you’ve already got it wrong,” Townsend said. “Girls are the worst bullies of all. They are very secretive about it, though. That might surprise many of you. That’s because secrets are a bully’s best friend and when girls bully, they start whispering to everybody else about someone. Mary might say ‘don’t talk to Sarah anymore. We don’t like her.’ Then next thing you know, they go and do the same and it goes on and on and on. But most of the time with boys, they have it out one day, and the next day it’s over.”
Townsend went on to describe three types of bullying: physical, mental and cyber. She explained that North Carolina has laws against bullying others, and that cyber bullying — action taken through the Internet — is covered by that law the same way other forms of bullying.
“When you put something on Facebook, everyone can see it,” she said. “There was a girl right here in North Carolina who wrote something on another girl’s wall. She wrote, ‘better not come to school tomorrow, because I’m gonna get you.’ And it almost got her expelled.”
Townsend got the students engaged in an activity in which each was given a sheet of paper and asked to imagine themselves at the end of a typical school day, with all the frustrations and things that had made them angry, then take it out on the paper.
The sound of ripping, crumpling and stomping soon filled the cafeteria as students expressed their feelings.
After a few moments, Townsend seemingly froze the students where they stood with a single phrase:
“Now, I need you to give me back that piece of paper the way I gave it to you. Nice and neat. No wrinkles.”
There was absolute quiet, followed by the sounds of paper being flattened out and unfolded. There were a lot of knit eyebrows and some dubious expressions on the young faces.
“I can’t fix it,” someone said. “I can’t do it.”
Townsend explained that bullying has long lasting effects that follow everyone involved their whole lifetime. Like the paper, the whole community is permanently affected by bullying.
“It’s not only the bully who is affected, or the one who is bullied,” she said. “It’s the entire community. Fifty percent of people who are bullied never tell anyone about it. But if you are being bullied or you know of someone who is, you have to tell a trusted adult. Telling doesn’t make you a snitch. It makes you a hero. Now say that back to me.”
The kids repeated the phrase, a bit too quietly at first but on the second try they roared it like they meant it.