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Words matter

Weirdo. Broke. Fake. Freak.

These are just some of the words depicted in a photographic display in the hallway at Godwin Heights High School. These words were, at one time or another, hurled at students and staff at the school. Now they’re there for all to see. The display is part of an anti-bullying campaign recently launched at the school, with an emphasis on awareness: this can happen anywhere.

Senior C.J. Baskin was in the student focus group that led the #notinmyschool campaign. He said he learned a lot while in the group, formed after last year’s annual climate and culture survey revealed that bullying and name calling were affecting a significant number of students at the school.

80 photos of students and staff, holding a chalkboard depicting names they’ve been called, are on display at Godwin Heights High School

“It was surprising because personally, I haven’t experienced bullying or seen it much,” said C.J., sitting at a table with an anti-bullying banner.

“By signing this, you are agreeing to not bully,” he said.

Katie Hoffman, multi-tiered systems of support coach at the high school, said the survey was eye-opening for many people.

“Many times, students say they are just ‘messing’ or ‘playing’ around with their friends,” said Hoffman. “The survey data allowed us to start a conversation surrounding the idea that even though one person may think it’s a joke and just messing around, the other person may take it totally differently.”

Besides the photographic display and banner signing, the #notinmyschool anti-bullying campaign included a student-led assembly and creation of a paper chain that asked them to write names they had been called on colorful paper chain links.

Prior to the assembly, students had a short lesson on the anti-bullying initiative in their advisory class, Hoffman said. While students like C.J. might not bear the brunt of the bullying, the campaign has made all Godwin Heights High School students more aware of the problem.

“I hope that all kids start to feel more comfortable,” C.J. said. “We’re a family. I hope this brings us together.”

Each link in this colorful chain contains a negative word or name said to a student
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Bridie Bereza
Bridie Bereza hails from Lansing and has worked in the Grand Rapids area as a reporter, freelance writer, and communicator since graduating from Aquinas College in 2003. She feels privileged to cover West Michigan's public schools and hopes to shed a little light on the amazing things happening there through her reporting.

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