Don't be a bully

Watch out, bullies. Students are pledging intolerance toward you.

By RITA FARLOW, Times Staff Writer
Published October 28, 2007

A few years ago, Doris Gjoka's friend was hit by a bully and got a black eye.

"It made me feel really scared to go to school or anyplace," said Doris, 10.

On Friday, Doris and 35 other students at Fuguitt Elementary School took a pledge to keep their school free of violence and fear.

The fourth- and fifth-graders were initiated into Students Against Violence Everywhere, a nationwide student-led organization devoted to keeping schoolchildren safe.

To become a member of SAVE, also known as the "Bully-Free Club," students promise to resolve their differences peacefully, and help others do the same.

Assistant principal Diane Allen started the chapter after seeing the positive results SAVE had on her students when she was at Sandy Lane Elementary in Clearwater. Bullying referrals were cut in half and the difference in the students was noticeable, Allen said.

"It restores civility to the campus. If we have a campus where kids feel safe, a school free of fear, they're going to perform better and be happier children," Allen said.

The Sandy Lane chapter disbanded after Allen transferred to Fuguitt, which makes Fuguitt the only elementary school in the state with a SAVE group. Overall, nearly 190,000 students across the country and internationally, from elementary school to college, are involved in SAVE.

The nonprofit was founded in 1989 by students in Charlotte, N.C., after a classmate was fatally shot while trying to break up a fight.

Jan Urbanski, supervisor of Safe and Drug Free Schools, said the effects of bullying have become a concern for schools in recent years.

In a 2006 study of bullying and substance abuse among Pinellas County students, released in June, half of fifth-graders surveyed said they had been "hit, kicked, pushed or shoved" and 53 percent of fifth-graders said they had been teased at school.

The effects can be long-term for both bullies and their victims, Urbanski said. Bullies are more likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs, develop antisocial personality disorders and drop out of school. Victims have lower self-esteem and more stress, anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide.

Bullying runs the gamut from verbal taunts and social isolation to physical threats of violence. Cyberbullying, the newest form, uses technology to spread fear or humiliation. Cyberbullies may send threatening messages or spread rumors via e-mails or text messages, post unflattering pictures on the Web or exclude children from online games.

At Fuguitt, the kids will be trained to recognize and prevent bullying behavior, and act as peer mediators.

"This is something that's going to help them every day to work out their problems. There will be conflicts for the rest of their lives. It's how they work out those conflicts that's important," Allen said.

Fast facts

To learn more

For information on SAVE, visit the Web site at www.nationalsave.org/.

What makes a bully?

- A power differential between the bully and the victim, acquired through size, strength, numbers or status.

- An intent to harm.

- Repetition; bullying is repeated, not a singular event.

What is bullying behavior?

Verbal bullying includes taunting, teasing, name-calling, extortion and threats.

Physical bullying is harm to a person or property.

Relational aggression is harm to someone's self-esteem or group acceptance.

Sexual harassment is any inappropriate sexual comment, gesture or behavior, including offensive jokes, pictures and rumors that offend others.

Cyberbullying is using the Internet or other digital communication devices to send or post harmful or cruel text or images.

Source: Pinellas County Schools

"I pledge to remain bully free; will not commit or support violence against any person in my school or community; will demonstrate respect for others and myself; will follow our school-wide expectations; be a role model for others; will tell other students to seek adult assistance when conflicts begin to get out of control; will examine my own actions; and will make every effort to resolve my own conflicts peacefully."

- The pledge made by SAVE members