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Members of the Student Council at Willmar Middle School unite to address their fellow students in an effort to put an end to bullying

Makenna Hogan, 14, left, and Maddie Stoeberl, 13, both eighth-grade students at Willmar Middle School and members of the student council, talk Wednesday about their anti-bullying efforts. The students were dressed in orange for National Unity Day, part of Bullying Prevention Month. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Orange was the color of the day Wednesday at Willmar Middle School, to celebrate National Unity Day, part of Bullying Prevention Month. Unity Day was part of a week of programs and activities related to bullying prevention. Students and teachers wore orange clothing around the school. Those who didn’t have orange clothing sported orange ribbons tied around their wrists. Many teachers also wore their T-shirts encouraging kids to “Step Up” to challenge bullies.

A group of eighth-graders who are members of the Student Council spoke to other students in presentations this week urging them to THINK before they say something to a friend or classmate.

THINK is an acronym for a series of questions: Is it true, is it helpful, is it inspiring, is it necessary and, finally, is it kind.

Not everyone uses that test before speaking, the students said. “If they did, we wouldn’t have to do this,” said Maddie Stoeberl, 14.

The Student Council members said they see other students being bullied in school, though they don’t experience it much personally.

“People kick each other, I’ve seen that a lot,” said Annie Schaefbauer, 13. Other bullying incidents they listed were racial jokes, locker room pranks and making fun of special needs classmates.

“Some people do it as a joke, but (others) don’t take it as a joke,” said Jolissa Lara, 13.

Their programs this week gave students tips on what to do if they see someone bullied. Mainly, they are advised to stand up for the person being bullied and to tell an adult.

Makenna Hogan, 14, said she speaks up if she witnesses bullying, and the other students nodded.

“I say, ‘Hey, what was that for,’” she said.

It can be a difficult thing to do, Jolissa said. “You don’t know what they’re going to say or do.”

Bobby Perez, 14, said some students won’t stop until they get in trouble with an adult.

Annette Tiffany, the school social worker, said adults intervene, too, but “it means a lot when kids hear it from their peers.”

The students said they didn’t think the school had a big problem with bullying.

“I think we do a nice job of giving students the skills and information they need,” Tiffany said. The training will always be needed, she said, in part because of what Annie termed “middle school drama.”

Ethan Panchyshyn, 13, said he thought there was less bullying at the Middle School than at his elementary school.

“A lot more people have stepped up,” he said.

Cyberbullying through Facebook and text messaging can be a problem for kids, too, but the Student Council members said they also see students stepping up online.

“I think cyberbullying is harder to handle than face to face,” said Josie Muller, 14.

“There are always new challenges,” Tiffany added.

“The adults are so helpful” when they are approached, Jordyn Swoboda, 13, said. “If a grownup has it in their hands, you know things are going to be OK.”

The school has an anti-bullying hotline, where a parent or a student can leave an anonymous message if they can’t find another way to deal with a situation. Assistant Principal Beckie Simenson said the hotline gets a couple calls a month, on average.

“If we get one call and can help, that’s what it’s for,” Simenson said. “It’s really having one more way of preventing bullying.”

The students said they know that a bully could turn on them if they defend another person.

“I would rather help somebody in need and handle it myself,” Maddie said.

Jolissa added, “If they pick on me, I can go to an adult.”

Students said they step in by speaking up but also by inviting bullied students to sit with them at lunch, and by giving others their phone numbers in case they need to talk.

“It’s improving,” Jolissa said. “The more we do, the better it gets.”

It’s important to many students to combat bullying, Tiffany said. “They want their school to be a welcoming place.”

For more information about bullying and how to address it, go to the National Bullying Prevention Center at The site includes fact sheets, videos and blogs about bullying.

Bullying facts

- Nearly one-third of all school-aged children are bullied each year, more than 13 million students.

- Nationwide, 20 percent of students in grades 9-12 experienced bullying.

- Nationwide, 28 percent of students in grades 6-12 experienced bullying.

- 64 percent of children who were bullied did not report it.

- More than half of bullying situations (57 percent) stop when a peer intervenes on behalf of the student being bullied.

- Only 10 U.S. studies have been conducted on the connection between bullying and developmental disabilities, but all of these studies found that children with disabilities were two to three times more likely to be bullied than their nondisabled peers.

- Researchers discovered that students with disabilities were more worried about school safety and being injured or harassed by other peers compared to students without a disability

- The National Autistic Society reports that 40 percent of children with autism and 60 percent of children with Asperger’s syndrome have experienced bullying.

Source: National Bullying Prevention Center

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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