POINT PLEASANT — “Differences are cool!”
This phrase was among many words spoken on a very important topic during a special assembly on Friday at Point Pleasant Intermediate School (PPIS) titled “Anti-Bullying Part Two: It Does Matter.”
PPIS Principal Shawn Hawkins began the afternoon by saying their goal at PPIS is to create a culture where each student feels like they belong and that they are loved, emphasizing the phrase “It does matter” and that each student at the school matters and everyone is important.
“We’re here today to make a statement,” she said.
The first event at the assembly included a group of student actors performing a play where they called each other names, made fun of one another, and eventually broke out into a big fight. After being broken up by the teacher, the students were instructed to place paper bags over their heads and repeat exactly what the teacher said, but in a robot-like voice. The students in the play realized it wasn’t very fun being the same as everyone else and the differences between them were okay; differences were cool.
Following the play, Hawkins, along with the help of two PPIS students, demonstrated how easy it is to say something that’s not very nice and how it can’t be taken back. Hawkins had the students write out on a piece of paper, using a tube of toothpaste, what they want to offer at PPIS. One wrote “To help” and the other wrote “To be nice to people.” Hawkins mentioned the students had previously been sent to her office when they had gotten in trouble earlier in the school year, but had now turned things around. The students were then asked to take the toothpaste they had used and put it back into the tube, which they couldn’t do, driving home the point that what you say and what you do can’t be taken back, but you can turn things around, apologize, and make things better in the future.
The main event of the assembly included a presentation from Susan England-Lord, a West Virginia University extension associate professor, who spoke about her personal experiences with bullying and what types of bullying there are in today’s society, emphasizing the presence of cyber-bullying. England-Lord said a cyber-bully can use a variety of things, including video games, social media sites, and cell-phones, and that a cyber-bully often feels safe since their threatening words and messages aren’t face to face. Much like a face to face bully, once something is said, or in this case written, it’s there forever and can’t be taken back.
“If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t write it,” England-Lord said.
England-Lord also discussed the amount of young people who have been bullied and as a result, turned to suicide, saying 20 young people in the state ended their lives last year as a result of being bullied. She also had PPIS students count to seven with her, saying that someone is bullied every seven seconds and that 165,000 students everyday don’t attend school because they have been bullied.
England-Lord also mentioned Senate Bill 213, signed in 2011 by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, which makes cyber-bullying punishable by law and reminded the students if they say something online and it comes back to school, they can be punished by the principal as well.
While one may think this online behavior is mainly among older students, England-Lord said the youngest person in a correctional facility for cyber-bullying was 10 years old. England-Lord continued, saying in order to join these social media websites, one must be at least 13 years old and despite this requirement, an overwhelming majority of the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth graders at PPIS raised their hand when asked who had a Facebook account, reinforcing the fact that parents and other adults should know what is going on when it comes to their child’s online activity.
Also during the assembly, a group of freshman girls from Point Pleasant Junior/Senior High School spoke to the younger students on their experiences with bullies and what they are doing to make a difference, saying they had started a club at the high school in which they help support people who have been bullied and work to end this kind of behavior as well.
Hawkins and the school Counselor Charla Martin discussed starting an anti-bullying club at PPIS as well, which they said first began with the students, who had a desire to help spread the word about bullying and supporting one another. Martin stated this topic is easier when it’s just being talked about and through this group they hope to teach the students what to do when they find themselves being bullied or when they see someone else being bullied, and that is to tell someone about it and help put an end to it. Hawkins and Martin hoped that through this group, this message would also travel out into the community, by way of the students talking to other students and then their parents.
Hawkins also noted that change takes time and PPIS is in it for the long haul. She also said another reason why they held this assembly on this particular Friday is because they start a new semester on Monday and it will serve as an opportunity for the students who may have been bullied or have been a bully to someone else to make a new start.
Previously this school year, PPIS also held an afternoon of team building activities on “Unity Day,” a day where the students were encouraged to wear orange as a way to show support for those who have been bullied. During these activities, students learned the importance of communication and trusting one another.
Also as previously reported, PPIS has been using a system called the Positive Behavior Support System, through which they remember four key points of always being respectful, responsible, ready to learn, and safe. These points were also brought up during this assembly and continue to be a motto as the students progress through the rest of the school year.