Local News

'Silence is participation'

SEBRING - Sebring Middle School sixth-grader Preston Price was disgusted when he heard how Rebecca Sedwick, a 12-year-old from Lakeland, killed herself after what authorities said was more than a year of constant bullying. His classmates Ciera Nyhan, Ana Fabian and Tracie Capalbl were shocked when they found out. "I was scared," Ana said. "What if that would happen to me?" she couldn't help asking herself.
The four students in Courtney Germaine's language arts class will be studying about bullying this week as part of a school-wide effort to teach kids how to prevent harassment and its effect on victims. That's not a new message. Schools have been focusing on anti-bullying campaigns for years, but what Germaine wants to especially drive home is that those who see others being bullied and don't do anything about it are just as culpable as the bullies. "Being silent is participating," she emphasized. Germaine said part of the problem is a notion among kids that if they tell an adult they are being "snitches." Another may be the generation they live in, as the beating death of Sebring man Aaron Doty showed, she said. The youth may be more inclined to whip out a cell phone and try to video tape a fight than break it up or get help, she said. She wants them to know that is not right. "They don't see the impact they could have on somebody's life," she added. The message is resonating keenly among local students, many of who said they were shook up by Rebecca Sedwick's suicide, perhaps made more immediate because she lived in Lakeland. School guidance counselor Donna Foster agreed. Part of the school-wide discussion and learning this week, which will culminate in a "Stand Up Pledge" Day Friday at the school, is on the proliferation of social media and cyber-bullying. Foster said cyber-bullying has added a different dimension to harassment, making it harder to police and limiting what school officials can do when kids are being mean to each other online in the evenings and on weekends. Foster said school officials talk to the children when they share their stories with them. "It's very difficult to police," she said. Facebook, for instance, has many layers to it that parents may not know of. "We need to equip the kids to know what to do,"(when bullied), she said. Wednesday, Germaine's class did bellwork on the story of Jamie Isaacs, who spearheaded a bullying law in New York state, after being terminally harassed and cyber-bullied for years. Earlier this week they studied a New York Times article on Rebecca Sedwick's suicide, and also will be discussing the story of a self-proclaimed bully and why he harassed other kids. Germaine came up with the idea of bringing the Stand Up Campaign to her school after coming across its web site. The nationwide movement was inspired by the true story of two Canadian high school seniors who galvanized their school to wear pink shirts after they heard a freshman student being bullied for wearing a pink polo shirt to school. This week all Sebring Middle School students are watching two Public Service Announcements on bullying, and all language arts classes are doing assignments. Monday, homeroom teachers read the story of the pink shirt and the Stand Up Campaign, and today Germaine's class is having a round-table discussion on the topic. The effort will culminate Friday when students will pledge to stand up to bullying and not be silent when they see it happen. Students can either wear a pink shirt or buy one of the Stand Up Campaign pink shirts the school is selling to mark the occasion. Foster said they will keep the campaign going through the rest of the year and continue it next year. She said students have been "very open" so far and hopes at the end of the day they know the right thing to do when they see someone being harassed. "It's OK to tell somebody," she emphasized. "Or just tell them, 'walk with me'" if they see someone being picked on, she added.