WASHINGTON – Bullying affects nearly one-third of school children,and even a future Miss America was not immune.
With jeweled crown in hand,Erika Harold told a group of middle school students Monday that she was a victim of bullying to the point of receiving death threats because her parents are of different ethnic backgrounds.
As Miss America 2003,she has been speaking out about the issue.
“This crown gave me the opportunity to talk to thousands of students and share my story,” Harold said as she encouraged the students to do whatever they could to prevent bullying.
Harold and others spoke at KIPP DC: KEY Academy to promote the “Take A Stand. Lend A Hand. Stop Bullying Now!” campaign,which was developed by the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The campaign includes information on a Web site and television and radio public service announcements. Educators also can print a resource kit from a Web site that gives suggestions for prevention programs and activities.
Surgeon General Richard Carmona encouraged students to oppose bullying and asked if they knew what he did.
“The surgeon general has the biggest practice in the world – I'm responsible for 290 million people,” Carmona said.
“Young people can and should do everything possible to help stop bullying,” said Elizabeth Duke,administrator for the Health Resources and Services Administration. “Bullying really prevents leading a good life.”
Bullying is a pattern of activity intended to cause harm or distress to others,and it includes both direct and indirect actions,as well as verbal and non-verbal tactics,according to HHS materials.
Duke said the best advice she got in creating the campaign was from the Youth Expert Panel,which was made up of 18 students ,ages 9 to 13,from several states. She said the panel stressed that young people have to be part of the solution.
Almost one-third of children in grades six to 10 say they've been involved in bullying,either as the bully or the victim,Duke said.
Another statistic came from Carmona,who said about 25 percent of students drop out of high school – and this percentage included him. He discouraged students from using that part of his life as an example.
“I dropped out of high school,” said Carmona,who grew up in Harlem in New York. “I got lucky – I joined the Army when I was 17,and I got a second chance.”
But for those students who stay in school,bullying is a “horrendous” problem,said Matt Cavedon,14,from Berlin,Conn. Cavedon is a member of the Youth Expert Panel.
“Exclusion,name calling,rumors,people will take people's money. … It's gotten out of hand,” Cavedon said. “People think you'll be tougher if you make it through,but no good can come of it.”
Brielle McClain,12,of Van Nuys,Calif.,is also a Youth Expert Panel member. She said she would sometimes pretend to be sick to avoid going to school because she didn't want to be bullied. She said now that she's a part of the campaign she stands up for herself and is less likely to be bullied.
As many as 160,000 students might be kept out of school daily in fear of being bullied,according to the National Association of School Psychologists.
The campaign urges school leaders to create clear rules against bullying and to encourage children to report it. The guide says school leaders must take strong action when they learn about bullying.
KIPP DC is a charter school for fifth- to seventh-graders that focuses on college preparation and holds extended class hours,including three Saturdays a month.
Carmona asked the KIPP DC students if there is bullying at the school. One child responded,“No,because it's a strict school.” Another said,“No,we're a family.”
“Everybody falls down once in a while – you need to help pull them back up,” Carmona said. “If you need help,you ask. If you see someone needs help,you help.”
At 6-feet-3-inches,it might be hard to believe that Darnerien McCants,a wide receiver for the Washington Redskins,was small throughout his years in school. He said he was picked on frequently.
“I'm not so far removed from high school,” McCants said. “You have to try to understand what's going on with people at home,but you don't need to stand for it. It's important to communicate.”
The campaign is communicating its message is through animated “webisodes” that will be updated every two weeks. The cartoon stories are available on a Web site.
After viewing the first webisode featuring a student experiencing her first day at a new school,a girl in the audience said,“It was so real. The popular girl always gets stuff for her little clique and the new girl doesn't get anything.”
To view the webisodes and find out more information,go to www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov.