RL-B students stand up to bullying
ROUND LAKE -- In a sea of pale pink T-shirts, nearly 300 students and teachers in the Round Lake-Brewster School District stood up -- well, sat down -- as part of an international effort to eliminate bullying in schools.
"I know a lot of you have a problem with wearing pink today, but I'm going to explain to you why we're wearing pink today," teacher Lori Romans told the K-12th- graders assembled in the Round Lake High School gymnasium Friday afternoon.
She recounted the story behind the pink shirts.
Last year, two senior students in Nova Scotia passed out pink tank tops to their friends in support of a freshman at their high school who had been harassed the day before for wearing a pink shirt. Later, Canadian Bobby Cooper would start a movement -- International STAND UP to Bullying Day -- for which students sign and wear pink pledge T-shirts as part of a visible stance against bullying.
When Romans led the students in reciting the pledge printed on their T-shirts, the small district was at no shortage for volume.
"Today I have an obligation," they repeated. "No longer will I be silent. Silence is participation. I refuse to participate in the problem. We're all different but we all deserve respect. If you need help, come to me. If I think you need help, I'm getting involved. I GOT YOUR BACK!"
Romans recounted her own story of being bullied in the restroom as a kindergartner.
"To this day I can't use public restrooms," she told them. "You have a choice to be a positive person in someone's life ... or a negative person in someone's life."
She challenged students to intervene when they see others being picked on.
"In this room there are over 300 sets of eyes that are going to be watching (out for bullies)," she continued, saying most bullying occurs in restrooms, hallways and recess -- out of the sightlines of teachers.
"I hope ... instead of just laughing along cause that's their friends (bullying others), students will stick up for each other," said Kimmy Wiese, a senior at the school.
"Even though we know it won't get fully stopped, we can at least tone it down," added senior Anna Obermoller after the assembly.
Romans said she got a "random fax" alerting her to the worldwide event, and the school decided to become one of the 750 schools, workplaces and organizations (represented by more than a half-million people) that would pledge to stand up to bullying. The shirts were funded through a grant from the RLB School Board.
"It happens everywhere... Round Lake-Brewster has decided that instead of punishing the bullies, we're going to try to avoid the problem all together and empower the students to take responsibility for themselves and stop it."
She took the district's bullying policy around to each class at the beginning of the year to remind students of consequences.
"That was sort of the 'bad cop' take on it, and (this event) is the 'good cop' take," she explained.
"This isn't because we thought we had an exponential amount of bullying. It's just something we thought we'd address as a school-wide issue to get better at it."
The school's Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) chapter will present on the school's efforts as part of their yearly STAR (Students Taking Action with Recognition) Project.
FCCLA member Ceilia Schmitz was surprised at those willing to don pastel pink.
"There were people I did not expect to get involved that really took part in the event," she said.
Editor's note: A series on bullying in schools will appear in this newspaper in December.