HAZARD — Several students from a local middle school are working to fight bullying, and will be taking a short documentary and presentation to Rupp Arena on March 22 to compete against 6,000 other students in the Student Technology Leadership Program.
Bullying has been a growing concern in schools since the pattern of escalated violence has led to school shootings, and since the Columbine shooting in 1999, school bullying has been taken much more seriously.
Chartina Fugate, an eighth grader on Roy G. Eversole Middle School’s STLP team, said she was bullied by a girl at the school she attended before Roy G. Eversole. One day, she said, the girl waited until no teachers were around and beat her up. The incident caused her to go to the hospital with two concussions, and it was because of her experience that she and her team feel so strongly about working to prevent bullying.
“I was the better person for not going and tackling her than she was for tackling me,” said Fugate.
The STLP team partners use technology and data to create presentations that have a focus on making things better. They began their project by creating a survey to find out just how much of a problem bullying is for the school’s students. They passed out the surveys asking students about their experiences with bullying. That information was then passed on to teachers and authorities that made changes and began monitoring the worst areas at the school for bullying.
The students then turned those results into pie charts so they could visually compare the results and see just how many students at the school have dealt with bullying. Their data showed that most of the bullying at Roy G. Eversole happens at the seventh grade level.
They did receive some surprising results, including that 26.4 percent of the students said that they have been cyber bullied, which means they were harassed through electronic media like a cell phone, Facebook, or emails. Another surprising piece of data was that there were students who had considered not coming to school and even suicide as a response to bullying.
While this data is surprising, Fugate said that most of the students at the school responded in the survey that they had not been bullied.
“Most of the kids in our school have not been bullied, or they could just be afraid to say they have been bullied, thinking we may be able to find out who they are,” said Fugate.
STLP team coach Jeff Clair is proud of his students for coming up with the project and putting in so much work for it, and for the potential for positive change it represents.
“I think it is good when the kids identify a problem that they are facing instead of adults saying, guys this is what is going on,” said Clair. “This has been a real good project and they have done all of the work.”
Principal Vivian Carter said she has been working toward making her school what she calls a “kind school” for years. Several years ago her students took Rachael’s Challenge, which is an anti-bullying campaign in honor of Rachael Scott, the first student killed at Columbine. Since then, Carter has made anti-bullying a mission of hers.
“Every day we take a bullying pledge,” said Carter. “Does it work all the time? No, but I am getting more kids that are talking to me and making me aware of it.”
The students on the STLP team brought the results of their survey to Principal Carter, and they made some changes to the way the school monitors the students’ free time.
“We believe that they have to have free time and a time to socialize, so we have seating arrangements, but we let them sign up with the people they want to sit with,” said Carter, adding that this has helped to keep rumors from spreading by keeping students from table hopping.
The STLP team took their preliminary results and presentation to the regional competition in November where they did so well that they are now getting ready to compete at the state competition. They will be competing against schools from across Kentucky, some with STLP teams of nearly 100 students.
The small but motivated Roy G. Eversole team has conducted interviews and created a video for their state presentation. If they do well at state, they could have the opportunity to compete at nationals in California.
While the students and Coach Clair said they would be excited to do that, they wanted to make sure that their project could make an impact locally at their school. According to Carter, it has.
“I have so many more kids coming into my office and sharing feelings,” she said.
Also from this came a partnership and seminar by Major James East of the Hazard Police Department. East created an anti-bullying presentation to explain the criminal consequences of bullying, and had since then been interview by the STLP team and even helped to counsel some of the students at the school.
Carter said they know the school can’t be perfect, and no matter how much they do they cannot control how students are going to act. But they are always going to try.