Students form anti-bullying task force
By Debbie Bosak
MICHIGAN CITY Bullies are nothing
new. For ages, schools have been testing grounds for those who
feel a need to assert their misperceived strength or superiority
by choosing one or two unfortunate souls as targets of their
unfounded aggression. There was a time gone by when teachers and
parents might have shaken their heads, saying, "kids will be
kids." Those days are gone.
As the current culture becomes increasingly
numb to brutality in many forms and school violence continues to
escalate, parents and administrators alike struggle to find a
solution to the problem.
"The taunts are more personal and involve sexual identity and
physical appearance, topics the culture exaggerates," said Dr.
Susan Bryant, principal at St. Stanislaus Kosta. "In the past, no
one asked about a person's sexual preference. Now it's all over
At St. Stanislaus Kosta, 17 sixth-grade students have taken a
leadership role in an effort to create awareness and stop the
practice of bullying cold in its tracks. As part of the Unique
Gifted Lovable You, or Hey UGLY, program, this middle school task
force launched a school-wide initiative on May 13 geared toward
empowering students to step up and take control.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 864,000
teens miss at least one day of school each month because they
fear for their safety. A study by the National Youth Violence
Prevention Resource Center States that 5.7 million children have
bullied or been bullied. Bullying can take many forms, from
verbal to emotional, as well as physical. In light of developing
technology, bullies now employ modern tools, such as the
Internet, email, camera phones, online social networking sites
and text messaging, which can provide an insidious veil of
Bryant was attracted to UGLY because of its dedication to helping
students of all ages overcome issues of self-esteem and the
bullying that can happen as a result. Bullies hide their behavior
well, ensuring that the teacher cannot always observe the
behavior, said Bryant. Parents of students accused of bullying
often do not believe that their child is even capable of this
"We originally contacted Hey UGLY to help us create an
anti-bullying environment, and it became apparent that their
approach to developing self-esteem directly attacks the bullying
syndrome," said Bryant. "Boys and girls who feel empowered to be
genuine and accepting of others don't bully others and don't
usually become the victims of bullies."
Gathering in the school gymnasium, members of the student
task force addressed the assembly. "Bullies feel scared so they
feel the need to hurt others with their words or actions," said
"If you fear for your safety, tell someone right away," added
Alex Miramontes. "Tell a teacher, a counselor, a friend or your
Following the presentation, each of the school's 170 students
stood before a task force member to take a pledge: "I promise to
stop bullying and respect other's feelings." Students then
created a large banner with cutouts of their hands as a continued
reminder of their pledges.
"Some bully because they think it will make them feel good, but
it doesn't. It makes them feel worse," commented Madeleine
Wojasinski, a task force member. And so it continues. "The bully
makes someone else feel bad and then that person bullies someone
else," she said. "It's like a chain. One bully creates another
According to Carrie Miller, a St. Stanislaus middle school
teacher and project facilitator, the task force will reinforce
its message with classroom visits, which will include various
self-esteem and diversity awareness activities. They are also
sponsoring a school-wide essay and art contest on the effects of
"I've taught in both Catholic and public schools and I've seen
bullying everywhere," Miller noted. "The best place to start is
with the kids and the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would
have them do unto you."
"That's what Jesus teaches us and what we want to teach the
children," Bryant added. "We need to take care of ourselves and
be good to one another."
Hey UGLY, a not-for-profit organization, was designed to give
children and teens struggling with the effects of low self-esteem
the tools needed to counter bullying, eating disorders, other
forms of violence, substance abuse and suicide. Betty Hoeffner,
president and co-founder, was present at St. Stanislaus to watch
students take their pledges.
Inspired by a teen who came to Hoeffner after failed suicide
attempts, the advocate for youth embarked on developing a program
that would enable children and teens to learn to feel good about
themselves. And when it came to bullying, Hoeffner was able to
draw on personal experience.
"I remember it like it was yesterday - what it felt like in grade
school and high school," Hoeffner recalled. "I was bullied and I
was a bully."
The Hey UGLY program has now reached out to more than 650,000
youth through in-school presentations and activity plans.
"I hope our program stops bullying because it hurts people, even
the bully," said Martin Lomay, a team member.
Despite the fact that victims of bullies often are made to feel
isolated and marginalized, according to the bullying task force,
one of the strongest deterrents to this behavior is the old adage
- strength lies in numbers.
"Surround anyone being bullied to show unity and protection and
then take them to the principal to tell what you saw," advised
student Skyler Lagneau. "Bullying is just mean, and no one should
be mean to anyone."