May 27 • 01:58 AM

Almont youth say 'NO' to bullies

School district keeps 'Rachel's Challenge' alive with events to change culture

Almont High School students choose the color purple to remind their peers that bullying behavior is not acceptable. The district held a ‘Purple Out’ last week to raise awareness about the issue. photo by Catherine Minolli.

November 24, 2010
ALMONT — It's been in the headlines over and over again—headlines that are alarming and sad. But barely a week goes by without some troubling report of an incident of bullying.

"Being bullied is not just an unpleasant rite of passage through childhood," says Duane Alexander, M.D., director of the National Institute of Child Health and Development in a press release. "It's a public health problem that merits attention."

According to the NICHD, children who are bullied are more likely to suffer from mental health problems like depression and low self esteem.

Those feelings last into adulthood, Alexander says, and apply to the bullies as well.

"The bullies themselves are more likely to engage in criminal behavior later in life," he says.

Though "bullying" has long been a part of the human condition, modern technology has added a frightening twist. It has become increasingly associated with suicide and school violence.

According to the American Justice Department, one out of every four students will be bullied this month alone, and recent surveys indicate that almost two thirds of students say they are bullied mentally, verbally or physically. Equally alarming statistics indicate one of every five youths admit to being a bully, or doing some "bullying."

Students and staff in the Almont School District hope to reverse the trend in those statistics.

Last year they kicked off "Rachel's Challenge," a program designed to raise awareness about the consequences of choices and behavior and how others are affected. Middle and high school students participate in after-school clubs that plan events and activities to encourage others to make a positive change in school culture.

Last week, the district took on the bully issue head on. High school students spread the word that bullying has no place in their school by holding the first ever "Purple Out."

Students and staff donned purple t-shirts and posted purple signs to raise awareness about the negative and far reaching effects of bullying.

"With recent events of suicide, one at a university and then at a high school, the kids are starting to see how the problem is more prevalent and wanted to do something about it," says Colleen Ulmer, special education teacher and student council advisor.

Ulmer says the students also wanted to make connections with newcomers to the district, and to let everyone know that there are people who care about others.

"They were hearing from the grapevine that some of these kids were being bullied, whether it was just being ignored, and they were trying to keep them connected. We started talking about this and the excitement began building."

The Purple Out was modeled after similar events in other schools. November 17 was picked at random, Ulmer says, though it coincided nicely with parent-teacher conferences the week before.

"During parent-teacher conferences we had flyers with bullying facts and defined what cyber bullying was," Ulmer says. "When we talked about that the idea of the t-shirts came up and it went from there."

Students had 100 "Purple Out" t-shirts made bearing the message "Support, Report and Defend."

All the t-shirts were sold, and Ulmer says the district will likely repeat the event.

"Our goal is to do it K-12 and that everybody from bus drivers to teaching staff is wearing purple and we're constantly saying that this is something we don't want to tolerate. That it's not okay," she says.

At Orchard Primary and Almont Elementary, a 'Super U! Challenge' assembly was held.

The interactive, game-show style focuses on messages about friendship, bullying and making positive choices.

Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.
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