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Eighth-grade SADD students (from left) Claudia Morales, Andrea Nunez, Sam Varajas, Veronica Gonzales, Jackson Bonnett, Madison Roesner and Lynd-sey Schock stand in front of an anti-bullying sign at Worthington Middle School. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

WMS students work to ‘stomp out bullying’

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WORTHINGTON — An enthusiastic group of Worthington Middle School (WMS) eighth-graders is leading the charge to “Stomp Out Bullying” as part of the school’s activities in recognition of National Bullying Prevention Month.

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“Some people think bullying others will make them more popular,” said Sam Barajas, one of the students involved in the WMS SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) group that is spearheading the anti-bullying efforts.

“But bullying should stop,” asserted Veronica Gonzales. “We should all just be nice to each other.”

“Don’t let anyone push you around,” urged Lindsey Schock.

Guided by SADD adviser Bess Henrichs and WMS counselor Carrie Adams, more than 10 students have worked to spread a stern message against bullying at WMS, hoping to help kids who may have been bullied realize they are not alone and do not need to tolerate negative treatment at the hands of anyone — and to encourage tolerance and acceptance among the entire student body.

“I’ve had situations in the past where I’ve been bullied, and I wanted to help others who have been bullied to get their self-confidence back,” proclaimed Andrea Nunez of her decision to join SADD and work to prevent bullying.

So the students have made posters — “Stomp Out Bullying” — to hang throughout the building, and they also made a large anti-bullying banner that all students were invited to sign. That banner is now posted in the locker commons, along with another special piece of paper.

“We had the principals sign a pledge that they’ll help control bullying,” said Claudia Morales.

They also encouraged the entire school — students, staff and teachers — to wear blue on Oct. 7 as a demonstration of solidarity against bullying.

“Some kids said it was a good idea,” said Gonzales. “And kids who’ve been bullied said it was a wonderful idea.”

The WMS students offered these examples of what bullying may entail: name-calling, cyber-bullying (on Facebook or via text messages) and verbal or physical abuse.

“Unfortunately, bullying seems to be a part of adolescence,” Adams said. “It usually involves picking on someone who is different than oneself.

“Of course, bullying is not just limited to Worthington,” she added. “The National Department of Education had a summit on bullying recently to see what was happening across the country and what we need to do in the schools to help out and prevent bullying whenever possible.”

Regional meetings followed, with state departments of education outlining clear directions for school districts to follow when presented with incidents of bullying.

“Our best goal is to prevent bullying in the first place, and a big part of that is to educate students on tolerance and acceptance of one another,” Adams said.

“Unfortunately, you can’t pinpoint who is going to act as the bully someday.”

The website dosomething.org cites that up to 160,000 students in the U.S. miss school each day due to bullying, and more than 3.2 million students are victims of bullying on an annual basis.

Each year, Adams visits the FACS (Family and Consumer Science classes) and the fifth-grade Explore classes at WMS to discuss issues surrounding bullying behavior.

“I talk to them about what bullying is, why people do it and what to do if you become a victim of bullying,” Adams said.

“I also try to get kids to take a look at themselves and consider — are you one of the bullies?

“There are times when kids can’t see themselves as the bully, or don’t realize that their behavior constitutes bullying, but I tell them, ‘If the other person wasn’t laughing, it wasn’t a joke — it was bullying,’” she noted.

Adams attempts to connect students who have been victims of bullying to activities such as SADD or other groups with supervised, positive involvement within the school and community.

“That way they can be involved and give back something positive, and have something new and affirming to hang on to when they’ve been belittled or made fun of,” Adams explained.

Judging by the smiles, bubbling voices and laughter emitting from the eighth-grade SADD students, Adams is definitely on to something.

“SADD is fun, and I want to help change people’s lives,” said Gonzales.

“I wanted to help the school be a better place,” said Barajas, while Jackson Bonnett added, “I thought I’d try out SADD and try to stop kids from bullying.”

Other activities in which the SADD students engage during the year are making tie/fleece blankets to give to Nobles County Family Services (for foster children to have), selling “brain suckers” to raise money to assist fellow students who may be in need, making “Friends for Life” notecards for everyone in the entire school on Valentine’s Day and generally seeking out other service-type events with which they can assist.

“We try to find hands-on, positive activities that allow them to give back to the community,” said SADD adviser Henrichs. “We want them to see they can do more as they get older — to teach them for the future.”

Adams says students who may be bullying victims are encouraged to talk with a trusted adult or teacher, visit her in the counselor’s office or tell their parents.

Similarly, kids who witness bullying are urged to not dignify it by watching, to report problems to a teacher or other adult and, if they are bold enough, to call the bully on it.

“Tell bullies, ‘Stop bullying — it’s not cool,’” suggested Barajas. “Treat people how you want to be treated.”

Reminded Nunez, “Putting others down is not going to make you feel better.”

Adams and Henrichs are happy that the students have taken the anti-bullying message to heart.

“This is very encouraging,” said Adams of the students’ response. “The SADD kids were so excited to help with bullying prevention, and they worked really hard on this.

“It’s an important piece to them, an important message to get out, even though the vast majority of our students at Worthington Middle School are great, kind-hearted kids.

“There are just a few who need a little more direction,” she added with a smile.

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