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Wear orange if you care: Wednesday is Unity Day

Riley Nickel, a sixth-grader at Worthington Middle School, reads her message for a public service annnouncement on Bullying Prevention Month. (Tim Middagh/Daily Globe)1 / 2
Cassondra Mendez (left) listens to Mild Du as she explains how she can help stop bullying as they wait to record their public service announcement. (Tim Middagh/Daily Globe)2 / 2

WORTHINGTON -- If you happen to think the population of Worthington Middle School (WMS) looks like a throng of construction workers next Wednesday, you won’t be entirely wrong.

It’s just that the school is striving to build community, understanding and an atmosphere of tolerance rather than roads, bridges or skyscrapers.

“We’re asking people to wear orange on Oct. 19 for national Unite Against Bullying Day,” urged Bess Henrichs, a WMS disciplinary paraprofessional and the school’s SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) advisor.

“Wearing orange next Wednesday demonstrates your support for positive behavior and interactions.”

Throughout October, which since 2006 has been designated National Bullying Prevention Month, the WMS SADD group is pushing its ideas about not being pushy.

Anti-bullying bookmarks will be distributed to all students next Monday, the student body is signing a giant orange poster that supports bullying prevention efforts and the school’s two professional counselors (Carrie Adams and Justin Breske) will continue making the rounds of Family and Consumer Science Classes to emphasize that bullying is not acceptable -- and consequences exist for those who engage in it.

“It’s good to discuss this toward the start of the school year because treating others respectfully is important,” stressed Adams.

Added Breske, “We’re raising awareness about bullying, and where kids can go for help and support if they are bullied. But it’s not a black and white issue; it takes a lot of work, and a lot of effort to spread awareness.”

At WMS, the anti-bullying campaign starts at the top.

Principal Jeff Luke and Assistant Principal Brett Perish signed personal pledges on Thursday to indicate they’re on board and on watch.

“Their pledges state that everyone in the school deserves to receive a quality education, that they’ll work to model good behavior and foster a school environment that encourages mutual respect and tolerance, that they’re aware of bullying and the negative effect it can have on kids and that their doors are always open to talk with parents, students and staff members who may have concerns,” listed Henrichs.

As SADD advisor, Henrichs typically works with 15 to 20 students annually who are interested in assisting with plans for National Bullying Awareness Month, among other activities.

“Kids in SADD record anti-bullying radio ads, or they might join another student who is sitting alone at lunch, or make posters with positive messages,” said Henrichs.

“We’ve heard from staff and students that seeing these posters gets kids to stop and think, or can assure students who are being bullied that they’re not alone and that there are ways they can get help if something’s going on.”

These days, cyber bullying is the primary culprit, Henrichs said.

“Tweets, Snapchats, Facebook -- it’s a lot of that kind of stuff, with negative or false comments, or rumors, being spread about other students,” she explained. “It’s hidden a little more, so we try to encourage kids to let us know if something like that is happening.”

Breske agrees.

“Bullying is completely different than when we were that age, so it’s very useful to ask current students what type of, and how, bullying is happening and how we can conquer it,” said Breske.

As middle school counselors, Adams and Breske are on the front lines in aiding local adolescents as they walk the minefields of teen development and mental health, and they’re grateful for any help they can get.

“I love having SADD involved because that’s a way students can take some ownership, be leaders and say, ‘Hey, this isn’t OK; do these things instead of treating people like that,’” suggested Adams.  

“It’s great to see the SADD kids take the lead with bullying prevention month, but it would be helpful if leaders and adults at all levels were striving to set positive examples for the kids.”

With that in mind, Henrichs, Adams and Breske are challenging area businesses and adults to join in wearing orange on Wednesday as a means of demonstrating their commitment to positive behavior and bullying prevention.

“We’d love for people to take pictures of themselves or their groups wearing orange and post them on the ISD 518 Facebook page to show their support,” said Adams.

“In a perfect world, no one would have to deal with bullying, but we’re trying to give students the tools to cope with it and stop it.”

Adams advises parents to remain alert to signs of bullying by paying attention to their children’s moods, friends and other aspects of their lives.

“If they are connected with you, they’ll feel more comfortable telling you about what they’re experiencing,” said Adams.

“We hope that wearing orange and observing Unite Against Bullying Day might inspire some parents to have a conversation about bullying with their children that they might not otherwise have,” explained Breske.

Above all, National Bullying Prevention Month gives teachers and administrators a chance to reinforce with students that “the way bullies treat others is not OK,” stressed Adams.

“Expressing kindness, respect and appreciation to other people is the way to go, and we’re working together throughout the year to maintain a positive learning environment at Worthington Middle School.”

For more information about National Bullying Prevention Month and Unite Against Bullying Day, visit pacerteensagainstbullying.org.  

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