A novel approach to end the taunting

March 10, 2004|By Tawanda W. Johnson | Tawanda W. Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Name-calling isn't considered a big problem at Patapsco Middle School, but the staff thought the issue was important enough to participate March 1-5 in the first national No Name Calling Week Project.

Kathryn Ivey, a guidance counselor at the Ellicott City school, said a new twist on a cliche that addresses name-calling was a good reason to participate.

"Sticks and stones may not break our bones, but they will break our spirit," she said. "Name-calling is hurtful, and we're doing some things to [counter that]."

Created by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, the initiative aims to create safer schools by making bullying, harassment and name-calling unacceptable through public education campaigns that motivate youngsters to change their behavior.

Those campaigns are also aimed at helping educators take school-based action against name-calling and verbal harassment.

Pupils across the country participated in a variety of activities throughout the week, including signing pledges, watching videos, creating banners and studying a book, The Misfits by James Howe.

The novel, which inspired the national campaign, tells the story of four friends trying to survive seventh grade in the face of taunts dealing with weight, height and intelligence, among other things.

The "Gang of Five," as they are called in the book, create a political party during student council elections and run on a platform of wiping out name-calling.

"We thought it was great that over 4,000 schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, participated [in the campaign]," said Michelle Sims, spokeswoman for GLSEN "We targeted students in grades five through eight, but we found that it was embraced by other grade levels."

Sims said New York, New Jersey and Michigan declared the campaign a statewide event.

Banner and essay contests were held in conjunction with the campaign.

Bullying has reached epidemic proportions in American schools, says the Women's Educational Media, a national group based in San Francisco that is an advocate for social change through films.

According to a survey noted on the organization's Web site:

Sixty-six percent of children are teased at least once a month, and nearly one-third are bullied at least once a month.

Six of 10 American teen-agers witness bullying at least once a day.

For children in grades six through 10, nearly one in six, or 3.2 million, are victims of bullying each year, and 3.7 million are bullies.

At Patapsco Middle, Ivey said, most of the approximately 725 pupils signed a pledge stating that they would not call their classmates derogatory names.

It states: "I pledge that I will refrain from calling people names or making rude or inappropriate comments to my peers. I understand that I am completely responsible for my actions and that I am aware that there will be consequences for rude or inappropriate comments."

The pledges were laminated and posted in the school cafeteria because the pupils congregate there every day and can use the pledges as friendly reminders of their commitment.

Samantha Stewart, a 13-year-old seventh-grader at the school, said the campaign is a good idea.

"It was very educational to realize that name-calling is a problem," she said. "I think [the initiative] did have a positive impact on our school. It was a great experience for the whole school."

Alicia Krause, a 13-year-old eighth-grader, added: "I think all the students who signed the pledge have tried their hardest not to call names, and everyone is more friendly."

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