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Coming Together to Stand Up to Bullying

Asked to give some examples of bullying, the fourth-graders of Zinser Elementary had plenty. “Kicking somebody,” a boy said. “Teasing,” said another.

“Constantly saying someone’s clothes are funny,” a girl said. “Name calling,” said another. “Saving a seat for somebody, but you’re really not. You just don’t want them to sit with you,” a third girl said.

At the front of their class, teenage students wrote down the responses and explained what kind of bullying each example was: physical, verbal, cyber or social exclusion. Their high school counselor, Jeff Poelstra, summed up the essence of bullying.

“You have to have one person that seems like they have more power,” Poelstra told teacher Jennifer Sullivan’s class. “That’s what bullying is, an imbalance of power.”

Poelstra led a group of 25 students to three Kenowa Hills elementary schools, to ask children about their experiences of bullying and show constructive ways to respond. The day was part of the ongoing mission of two Kenowa anti-bullying groups: Knights Lights at the high school and Bright Knights at the middle school.

Through role-playing, inviting students to share their struggles and a hard-hitting video, the older students sought to help their younger peers handle the kind of mean behavior many of them experienced in younger years.

“I wanted to get the message across to the kids that it is not OK to pick on someone because of the way they look or how they act or what’s wrong with them,” said Katlyn Siddall, a sophomore. “I was bullied, and I know how it feels. I don’t want the kids to have to go through that, if they haven’t already.”

Knights Lights members Katlyn Siddall, left, and Paulina Quizena explain different kinds of bullying

Advice: Be Calm, Kind & Consistent

Kenowa Hills students, like many others in area schools, have battled bullying through activities such as hosting Teen Nation assemblies. About 60 students participate in Knights Lights, whose members must perform at least 10 hours of service. Those included the recent visits to Zinser, Central and Alpine elementary schools.

In Sullivan’s class at Zinser, freshman Paulina Quizena urged students respond to bullying by being calm, kind and consistent. She role-played situations with Katlyn, showing how a kind response can blunt an insult. Then two Zinser students enacted a similar scenario.

“I don’t like your shirt,” Ansh Verma told Nathan Mitchell. “Well, I like your shirt,” Nathan responded. “Thanks,” Ansh said.

Paulina then invited students to stand up if any in a series of statements applied to them: Have you ever felt left out because of where your family is from? Picked on because they think you’re too smart? Thought of running away? Teased because of your skin color? Felt alone, unwelcome or afraid?

Paulina offered supportive statements to those who stood, such as, “We all have those moments where we feel unwelcome or alone. Just know there’s someone out there to help you, always someone who will understand.”

One girl cried, and Olivia Allen went over and comforted her. President of Knights Lights, Olivia knew how the girl felt, having been bullied in middle school. Students who cry are “feeling their emotions,” she said later.

“It’s helping them, and helping their classmates see they’re going through a really tough time,” said Olivia, a junior. “I think it makes them believe, ‘I should stick up for them, I should be there for them.’”

Paulina hoped the activities helped students acknowledge what struggles they and their classmates go through.

“Sometimes they feel they have no one else to talk to,” she said. “But in reality everyone has their own struggles, so you can always talk to someone.”

The message seemed to reach some students. Asked what she’d learned, one girl answered, “Everyone goes through hard times.”

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“To This Day” anti-bullying video by Shane Koyczan

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.

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