Messages of love and acceptance at high school
Student-led coalition tackling bullying
By Kathryn Schiliro
Justin Armistead is a "social force."
A Morgan County High School junior, Armistead is the creator and president of the school's Anti-Bullying Coalition.
The roughly 40-member school organization's goal is advocacy and education as to what bullying is and its effects, an effort to prevent the act from occurring.
"Bullying is bad; it can be harmful at times," Armistead said. "Sometimes people feel worthless on the inside."
And feeling worthless, as bad as that is, is the most minimal of the effects. Bullying can lead to suicide, Armistead said.
Armistead explains the three types of bullying: physical; verbal, e.g. talking behind another's back; and cyber bullying, which occurs electronically, like on Facebook for example.
Coalition leadership believes, for the most part, Morgan County High School sees less bullying than larger schools.
"Small communities see less than some places," teacher Tara Mahoney, coalition advisor, said. "But we're not immune."
The school has a basic anti-bullying policy in place and administration supports anti-bullying efforts. Armistead also cites statewide efforts to cut down on bullying.
Bullying happens every day, everywhere, Armistead said, even though it's not always obvious. For example, gossiping or talking about others behind their backs is bullying.
The coalition has taken up and planned several initiatives to get their message across, and to raise funds.
Earlier this year, the organization put a jar filled with individual pieces of candy in the school's front office. For 50 cents a guess or $1 for three, students could estimate the number of pieces in the jar. At Halloween, the jar was given to the students who came closest.
As far as fundraising, bake sales have also been mentioned; the coalition's still generating ideas in this area. They want to use the funds to take fields trip to different schools. Inspired by the anti-texting-while-driving movement at the school born following the death of Caleb Sorohan, it's Armistead's hope that eventually the group will create a presentation and "get out and get the show on the road to share."
Another effort at increasing awareness, the coalition's vice president, junior Jack Leclair, who also happens to be tech-savvy, started a YouTube channel – it's called "Anti Bullying" – and recorded the organization's initial video, "an introduction to the club's visions," Mahoney said.
The coalition has also spoken at local wrestling events and, to spread goodwill, used the opportunity to hold a canned food drive.
"I believe we can do service projects to get our message across," Armistead said.
Putting their message in front of the school's population is a priority. The coalition is planning production of PSA-type, anti-bullying short videos to be shown on the school's announcements and they're developing skits to "explain how it (bullying) hurts people," Armistead said.
One idea is to take a piece of paper, crumple and stomp on it, then hand it to another and ask them to describe how it looks. The resulting descriptors? "That's how someone who's bullied feels," Mahoney said.
Armistead also wants to see the coalition spread the message to the primary, elementary and middle schools.
"Preventative education for younger students about how hurtful actions can be," Mahoney said.
And "we're thinking about T-shirts– to build solidarity," Armistead said.
The shirts, Armistead hopes, will feature the coalition's still-to-be-determined logo. Armistead's pushing for something featuring people holding hands in unity.
There are about eight Club Days a semester, but Armistead is constantly planning what the coalition can accomplish. And they have the manpower to do so. In addition to the 40 members, Armistead as president and Leclair as vice president, there are three secretaries: seniors Alexis Vaughn, Nick Walker and Hannah Simpson.
"It's an active group with a lot of interest and passion," Mahoney said. "Justin's message is about loving your neighbor and accepting everybody."
"I thought it would be a great thing to spread love and acceptance of one another," Armistead said, "because you see a lot of hate in the world."
Printed in the December 6, 2012 edition