By Eli Ruiz
LIBERTY Recent suicides in the U.S. have cast the spotlight on the subject of bullying in schools and suggest a very strong link between the two.
Last Thursday, parents and teachers joined the students of the Liberty School District to learn more about the dangers of bullying and more importantly, how to get involved and prevent it from becoming a problem in the first place.
“Kids need to know that bullying is not a normal part of growing up.… It’s not some right of passage,” said Tom Ellison of Sullivan County BOCES.
Ellison a Prevention Specialist at BOCES is the man tasked with training the faculty and staff at Liberty.
Ellison received his training from the OLWEUS Bullying Prevention Center at Clemson University. The program was developed by Swedish psychology professor Dan Olweus, who dedicated his life to research and intervention in the area of bully/victim problems among school children and youth.
On Thursday, about two dozen concerned parents assembled at the Liberty Middle-School Library, along with school social worker Lynne Diener, to hear Ellison lay out Liberty’s plan to address bullying as a district-wide initiative.
By July 1 every school in Sullivan County is required to adopt an anti-bullying program to address the issue and to comply with the Dignity for all Students Act, which was signed into law September 13, 2010, and will take effect on the July 1 deadline.
The Act seeks to provide the state’s public elementary and secondary school students with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment and bullying on school property, a school bus and/or a school function. Indeed, schools have been recognized as the epicenter where most of all bullying takes place.
With 25 percent of all children in a survey of about 500,000 youth reporting having been bullied in some fashion or another, and with the vast majority of the victims never having reported the incidents, Liberty has chosen the OLWEUS Program as its framework to take on the growing epidemic.
“We have to give kids the skills they need to step up and help, and the role of adults in bullying has never been more critical, said Ellison.
After Ellison’s hour-long presentation, students could be heard being called by grade level on the school’s PA system to the Liberty High School Gym, where a two-hour assembly was held to celebrate the “Million Tee-Shirt March.”
The march was sponsored by the OLWEUS Program and, as luck would have it, country music radio station, Thunder 102.1FM, along with anti-bullying crusader, Sullivan County District Attorney Jim Farrell, had a big treat for the hundreds assembled at the high school gym: A performance by rising country music star Matt Kennon, who highlighted his anti-bullying song “You Had to Pick on Me.”
Liberty PR Director Allison Ruef, who also had a hand in organizing the event, said, “Thunder 102 was in Tennessee at a country radio conference when they heard that song . . . they came back and told Mr. Farrell about it and Jim said, ‘Let’s get this guy up here.’”
So, using forfeiture funds or seized monies Farrell’s office arranged to have Kennon flown up at no cost at all to taxpayers.
Ruef likened the gesture to “taking money from the bullies to do something special for the victims.”
Farrell said, “We’ve been all over the county’s schools with this message.… It’s a passion. It’s not courtroom crime prevention, but we need to reach these kids early because research has found that 60 percent of kids who bully have a felony record by the age of 23.
“If we can stop it now we can cut them off that road to the State Penitentiary . . . I will invest whatever time it takes to do this,” he added.