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Schools emphasize campaign

Jan. 11, 2013 @ 11:55 PM

HUNTINGTON -- A number of area schools took time out Friday to emphasize the importance of anti-bullying efforts as part of the West Virginia Department of Education's "It Does Matter" campaign, which was launched last fall.

The schools involved include those in the Regional Education Service Agency 2, which serves Cabell, Lincoln, Logan, Mason, Mingo and Wayne counties. Elementary schools participated in "Wrinkled Wanda" activities, which show how insults or rude and disrespectful statements tear down people, and how kind, positive words build self-esteem.

In middle and high schools, students were encouraged to create a memorial wall to share times they were bullied along with positive interactions with fellow students.

For students at Ceredo-Kenova Middle School, Friday wasn't all that different. That's because former principal Barry Scragg actually created a two-week course several years ago on bullying that all sixth-graders and new students take. First-year principal Tonji Bowen, who taught at the school for several years, added to Scragg's efforts by creating a refresher course for seventh-grade students.

"I've taught in seven schools in my 21 years ... and I'm not saying this school doesn't have issues or incidents of bullying, but I've never been in a school with such a positive atmosphere and culture," Bowen said.

On Friday, the fourth day of the 10-day course for sixth-graders, Bowen talked about how to identify bullying and some examples of "triggers" that spark bullying. She said it's not uncommon for middle school students to tease one another, but it can escalate to bullying when the person doing the teasing doesn't stop when asked to.

At the end of the two-week class, students team up and create an anti-bullying poster.

Seventh-grade students joined the class Friday to talk about the class and its value to the school and community.

"I always feel safe here," Allie Murray said.

Her classmates -- Noah Stephens, Kameron White and Lexie Ratcliff -- agree their small middle school is rather peaceful. They say the anti-bullying class has created that culture.

But they know it won't always be that way. In two years, they'll be at Spring Valley High School, with its 1,000-student population, and likely on a college campus in five years. So they want what they are learning now to stay with them along the way.

"I think we'll be more aware of what bullying is," White said.

At Huntington Middle School, Principal Joe Brison shared similar comments. He said anti-bullying efforts aren't something they set aside one day to talk about.

"It's part of the culture," Brison said.

The school adopted the state's "Respect, Protect" program two years ago and then added "Connect" to create a committee of students and staff members who seek to create a positive culture. In October, the group brought in Florida teenager Izzy Hadala, who has a birth deformity which caused students to tease her in elementary schools. She wrote a children's book about a boy with a cleft lip who faces his deformity head-on with classmates the way she tried to. Her overall message for students was to embrace their differences and view one another for what's on the inside.