Rim Country Middle School is drawing a hard line on bullying.
While everyone can recount getting pushed around a bit in school, school officials say bullying is a growing issue at RCMS and one that needs to stop before it gets out of control.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, school officials held two assemblies — one for boys and another for girls — telling students the harassment must stop.
“We are not taking this lightly,” said Principal Will Dunman.
Teacher’s aide Twila Johnson said bullying had a lasting impact on her life and at one point almost ended her life. Johnson was one of several speakers at the assembly.
From elementary school on, students teased Johnson relentlessly, throwing rocks, spitting and even putting gum in her hair.
Always last picked for a team, students laughed at Johnson and called her names.
The bullying got so bad she thought about suicide and eventually dropped out of school during her junior year.
“It took a lot of counseling to get where I am today,” she said. “I had to learn that I am a good person despite what they said.”
Still, whenever Johnson hears someone laugh, she wonders if they are laughing at her.
“I am a victim for life,” she said.
Nationally, 282,000 students are physically attacked in secondary schools each month with one in every three students bullied, according to statistics cited at the assembly.
Half of all incidents go unreported.
Only when a student commits suicide does everyone get involved, but RCMS wants to stop it before something like that happens.
“We are hitting it hard core,” said Lori Standifird with RCMS.
Earlier this year, the school board enacted several new policies to crack down on bullying. RCMS staff was already looking at the issue when the new policies came out Standifird said.
“It is an issue that needs to be dealt with,” she said. “It is a growing issue that we are trying to address now.”
Anyone caught bullying faces a possibly nine-day suspension or even expulsion.
At certain levels, police may even arrest a student for harassment.
Bullying happens in many different ways, from constant belittlement to shoving and social exclusion. Students are even using mediums like Facebook and text messaging to send cruel or embarrassing rumors and threats and sometimes to stalk victims.
Cyber bullying uses technology to harass and bully, said Payson Police Officer Michael Hansen.
Students also use cell phones to send naked or nearly naked photographs to each other, which is considered child pornography. Asking a girl for a naked picture “is such a disrespectful thing to do,” Hansen said at the boys’ assembly. It’s also illegal.
So what can students do if they see a student get bullied?
Stand up for that student and tell a teacher.
RCMS Guidance Counselor Byron Quinlan said everyone could be a “HERO” or “helping everyone respect others.”
The school plans to hand out wristbands with the HERO slogan and encourage every student to stand behind its meaning.
“It is time for us to make a change,” Dunman said.
For more information, visit www.stopbullying.gov.