Roachdale Elementary had its kickoff events on Tuesday, but they were not the only school to hold a special kickoff event. North Putnam Middle School held its kickoff events on Wednesday morning in a school assembly. Teacher Jana Brothers got the event started.
"A man's greatness is...is defined by how we treat others," Brothers said. "Sometimes we don't even realize we're a bully."
School corporation superintendent Mary Sugg Lovejoy spoke to the group of middle schoolers next, recounting her own struggles as a mother. Her daughter, Rebecca, is a grown woman now learning to become a psychologist, but as a child she was often the victim of bullies.
Lovejoy said bullies harassed Rebecca throughout grade school and middle school. Lovejoy doesn't know why it happened, and her daughter always kept quiet about it. But in high school, Lovejoy said, her daughter found her voice and spoke out. She wasn't bullied again.
"Thank you for making your voices count against bullying," Lovejoy said.
The assembly also featured skits and movies created by Joanie Knapp's social studies class. In these skits, bystanders became active in keeping bullies away from their targets, and in some cases, the targets went on the offensive against the bullies in different ways, usually by telling them off or informing an adult.
"Why would you want to treat someone the way you don't want to be treated?" asked North Putnam High School senior Travis Franklin during his short address to the middle school students.
Reni Mays, herself a student at Indiana University and parent of a middle school child, talked to the group about the harm bullying can do to other students. Mays said that bullying divides people based on differences, but everyone has something in common.
"We do not want to be known as a school with a negative culture," Mays said. "Stand up and report it right away."
To close out the program, Power of Children award winner Olivia Rusk came to talk about bullying. Rusk was born with alopecia, a disorder that causes white blood cells to attack hair cells, leading to no hair growth in different parts of the body. She is currently an eighth grader at Fishers Junior High.
Rusk herself has not been bullied, which she attributes to her confidence and openness about her disease. But she knows several others, with or without alopecia, who have been bullied and the pain they have gone through. She said the best way to fight off bullies is to talk to adults who can stop it.
"You really should," Rusk said. "There's no other way to stop it."
Rusk had hair at first, and later lost it again as a child. She wore a custom wig to keep other students from finding out about it at first, but one day she woke up and decided she wouldn't wear it anymore.
"I was scared to think of what they would say to me when they knew," Rusk said.
Through her own inner strength, she has become a spokesperson for bullying, children, women and the disease. In 2008 she created a music video called "I Could Be Great" that led to many people with the disease to consider her a hero, and many without to consider her an inspiration. In 2009 she won the Power of Children award from the Indianapolis Children's Museum.
Rusk joined the band on the bass drum as they played the assembly out to "Roman Festival Overture."
North Putnam High School also had a kickoff event on Thursday, but on Friday the school hosted an ice cream social event. The school had held several activities during the week, which included pointing out areas in the school where bullying occurs with orange dots. The lunchroom also had signs in place that reflected the results of a school-wide survey taken earlier in the year.
Students who said they had been bullied two to three times a week commented on where they were bullied, with the option of choosing more than one location, said Lauren Alspaugh, counselor at the high school.
"We wanted to show them where the bullying was taking place and where we are watching the most," Alspaugh said.
According to the survey, 54 percent of the students said bullying occurred in hallways, 41 percent said it happened in the classroom, 39 percent said it happened in the lunchroom and 26 percent said it happened in the school bus. The hallways also had the most orange dots placed in it.
Before receiving their ice cream for lunch, students had to sign a pledge that would be displayed on the lunchroom wall saying they would not bully other students.
"We get in more trouble if we do (after pledging)," said studentSeth Peebles.
The school's National FFA organization also held a White Castle cheeseburger-eating contest. Students had to eat five sliders as quickly as possible. The winner was junior Brian Hubbard, who ate his sliders in 1:44.
Assistant principal Jason Chew also squared off against his brother Jerod Chew, ISDA Division of Soil Conservation. Jerod defeated his brother in the contest.
Though not affiliated with the Olweus program activities, advisor Kate Skirvin said it was also FFA Week at the school. Students were able to enjoy the contest and the keep the anti-bullying message alive.
"It hurts people's feelings," Peebles said.
"And it makes them do bad things," chimed in fellow student Tommy Suddarth.
Bainbridge Elementary spent their week keeping students involved with the Olweus program through dress-up events and special activities. Wednesday featured a "mix it up" themed day. Students received a card that corresponded with a color on the lunch tables. This was where they would be sitting for lunch that day, with the intention being that students would sit with other kids they wouldn't normally sit with. The event went so well, the school is thinking of doing the lunch mixing more regularly, said Kirstie McClamroch, school counselor.
The school also performed several skits about bullying. One event they held was a tug-of-war. Bullies were on one side of the rope and targets were on the other end. However, bystanders were on the side of the bully. One by one, each bystander announced what they would do to help the targets and then joined them until only the bullies were left. Finally, the former targets and bystanders invited the bullies to play with them.
The event was very powerful and also a teaching experience for the children, McClamroch said. Some students assumed larger children would automatically play bullies, but that is not always the case.
"It's not just getting beat up at recess anymore," McClamroch said. "It's not just kids being kids."
But the trick to all of this preparation and information is to continue the message throughout the school year and beyond. Teachers at each school will host special activities each week and will talk to their students about any incidences that may arise.
The main goal is to be proactive, said Lovejoy. The only way to make that work is to make sure it is never forgotten.
"I think it went pretty well," said Bainbridge Elementary principal JoEllen Cook. "I heard (the students) taking about it. The teachers are totally involved in this."