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May 2, 2013

Coalition youth fight back against cyber bullying

Jasper — HCHS school students Regina Carson, Robin Barber and Lorena Villafranco, members of the Hamilton County Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention (Youth) Coalition, re-enacted their cyber bullying presentation for the adult Coalition members at their April 16 meeting.

Coalition member and HCHS teacher Abbey Taylor invited 11 students to meet as part of a logistics model and they were asked to list every problem they could think of that students at the high school face. The general consensus of the students, who were chosen from different type groups on campus, such as sports kids and AP kids, was that cyber bullying was an issue that really needed to be addressed.

“We have this really great group,” Taylor said of the eleven students. “It represents the entire student body. You’d be amazed with some of the things they came up with.”

The group then constructed a presentation from the students’ perspective and it was shown at the school district’s Professional Development Day on March 20. They also gave the same presentation at a conference in Washington, D.C.

Taylor said, “That was an amazing opportunity.”

Part of their presentation was a survey they passed out to everyone that asked nine different questions and participants had to circle their answer as to whether they agreed or disagreed with the statements. For example, “Do teachers have the power to stop or prevent injustice?” “Do you think cyber bullying causes serious or long term effects?” The most interesting question was, “Do you think you could survive as a youth in the world of cyber bullying?”

Carson said students have confirmed that most bullying is hidden, secretive and devious and that adults are not fully aware of the breadth and depth of suffering that a child goes through when they are being cyber bullied.

“A lot of it causes serious psychological damage upon a person,” said Carson.

All three girls said that after their presentation at the school, many teachers and adults came up to them and said they were surprised it was going on and that they really weren’t aware.

“They got an amazing reaction when we did the presentation at Professional Development Day, especially from some people that I didn’t even think would pay attention,” said Taylor.

Taylor said if teachers happen to observe a student who seems distressed after looking at their cell phone, then they need to address the problem and have the student share it with them.
“If we don’t start addressing it, then the kids that do need to share, never will share,” she said.

The girls switched to a slide that showed a jumble of common, slanderous words that are used in cyber bullying; name-calling, if you will. Many of them were graphic. Some of the least graphic words were freak, fatso, loser, dork, punk, stupid and worthless. Carson said many students get called these names on a regular basis and a lot of them commit suicide.

“People don’t talk about it,” said Carson.

“That’s where our shirts come in,” said Villafranco. “We each picked a word that might describe us, a word that maybe someone else has called us. You’ll see a video that explains the back of the shirts.”

The video, the most emotional part of their presentation, was a short, seven minute animated video on bullying by Canadian poet Shane Koyczan called, “To This Day.” It was so powerful it brought many of the Coalition members to tears.

The statement on the backs of the girls’ shirts said it all; “They were wrong.”

Carson said it is important, especially for teachers, never to tell a child to “get over it”, when they complain about being cyber bullied.

“Because you never know,” said Carson.

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