Catonsville, Arbutus students focus on anti-bullying efforts

Bullying can take many forms.

Sixth-grader David Hale, for example, said that while there is not a lot of outright physical fighting at his school, Arbutus Middle School, he does see a lot of fellow students getting "book dropped" — where someone's books are smacked out of their hands — and a lot of name calling.

"I think probably the worst thing is the name calling," said the Catonsville resident.

To raise awareness about bullying, schools throughout Baltimore County offered a variety of activities for the system's first ever Anti-Bullying Day on Friday, March 1.

"Everyone deserves to be happy. There's no pride in bullying." was the slogan on purple T-shirts designed by three students and worn by every teacher and student aide at Arbutus Middle School on Friday.

"The issue of anti-bullying is important," said Lynn Elliott, language arts chairwoman at Arbutus Middle. "Our students need to be aware of what situations mean bullying."

She said that some students might resort to bullying in order to fit in during a time of extensive change and growth in their lives, but that does not have to be the answer.

"It's OK not to follow the crowd," Elliott said. "Middle school is a tough year."

Elliott said cyberbullying is more prevalent in the school than any type of physical bullying and that teachers stress the importance of using social media safely.

She said many students do not consider that their virtual posts will be visual forever when posting harmful comments.

"They love social media," she said.

But they don't realize what they say on social media can stay with them forever, Elliott said.

"What you say to someone online shouldn't be different than what you would say in person," she said.

David was among three students who acted out a skit in language arts class during which they took turns ganging up on and bullying each other before deciding to stick together instead of bring each other down.

"The character I played was mean," he said.

David said he likes the idea of Anti-Bullying Day, but wishes it was a more continuous program.

"I don't think it should just be one day," he said.

"I don't think bullying is going to stop, but we can try to lower it in Baltimore County," he said.

David said people have made fun of the way his hair looks in the past and, while the name calling doesn't really bother him, he would like to see less of it.

"I think some people do it to fit in, to be part of the cool kids," he said.

Taylor Rupp, one of two school counselors at Arbutus Middle, said knowing the distinction between joking and bullying is crucial to decrease hurt feelings.

"What makes bullying versus (what makes) name calling and teasing?" Rupp said.

Students at the school on Shelbourne Road, where the enrollment is split between Catonsville and Arbutus residents participated in different activities in each subject emphasizing that lesson. Those included learning about cyberbullying, acting out skits, designing comic strips and making posters.

Rupp said those activities helped to make that distinction as well as change students' attitudes when interacting with each other.

"Our major focus is lifting others up instead of putting them down," Rupp said. "Using them (words) to brighten people's days instead of putting people down."

John Jarboe said he is supposed to wear glasses, but doesn't at school because he was made fun of.

The Arbutus Middle School sixth-grader's

friends, classmates Caleb Pfeiffer and Emma Meacham, also wear glasses and said they have been teased as well.

"They refer to some of us as nerds, and they pick on us," said Caleb, an Arbutus resident.

"It hurts your feelings," said Emma, a Catonsville resident. "Especially when you first get glasses."

Emma said she hoped her classmates will take the lesson of Anti-Bullying Day to heart, and decrease the amount of bullying at Arbutus Middle.

"I hope they realize, during this whole day (when kindness and respect are promoted); hopefully they'll want it to stay like this, and they'll stop," she said.

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