“We want people to realize the damage that bullying can do and realize that it's not ok, and that you're just as guilty if you sit back and watch as if you are the one doing it – because you can stop it. You can make a difference for that kid that's getting picked on.”
More than 3.2 million students are victims of bullying every year, with approximately 160,000 teens skipping school every day to avoid being bullied, according to the website Make Beats Not Beat Downs. That comes out to about one in every five children being bullied daily.
This is a problem the St. James Youth Council is trying to curb, by promoting Bullying Awareness Week, March 4 through 8 in St. James.
“It's become a very major topic, all over the internet and in a lot of schools,” said Youth Council Member Yari Hernandez. “We realized Minnesota doesn't have very strong bullying laws, and we need to do something to prevent bullying so kids see that bullying is wrong and learn what they can do about it.”
The Youth Council, in collaboration with the Rotary club in St. James, is offering a free showing of “Bully” at the Princess Theater to all community members on Monday, March 4, at 1 p.m.
“Bully” is the story of how bullying impacted the lives of five children and families throughout the course of a school year. It is rated PG-13 and is described as containing disturbing content, strong language and intense thematic material.
Some of the members of the youth council have already viewed the movie and a few were even brought to tears.
“I felt a lot of shock and a lot of anger toward the way things currently are,” said Youth Council Member Derrick Shupe. “Schools can't do much unless it gets physical, and of those who can, a lot don't care enough to even try. So that's a real issue.”
Parents can get a review of “Bully” by going online, or rent the movie from a Redbox or Super Fair before having their kids go to the free screening.
The goal of the week is to raise awareness in the community among both children and adults.
“We're trying to let people know that this is an issue,” said Shupe. “That we care and that we want change.”
The Youth Council is hoping that parents will be involved with their kids throughout the week, and watch the screening of “Bully” together. Youth Council members will also be visiting the classrooms of students in sixth through eighth grade to discuss bullying.
“We are mostly focusing on bullying 101, you know, who gets bullied, why people bully, what can you do when you see it being done and who can you tell,” said Hernandez.
Students will be spoken to first as a large group and then broken into smaller groups for more intimate conversations. Each day throughout the week will have a different topic for discussion, with the overall goal being awareness and prevention.
There will also be a poster contest for children grades six through eight. The posters are being created with the theme of recognizing bullying prevention. The winner of the contest will receive a Youth Council T-Shirt.
The end of the week has an assembly scheduled, with a skit taking place Friday about situational bullying.
“We want people to realize the damage that bullying can do and realize that it's not ok, and that you're just as guilty if you sit back and watch as if you are the one doing it – because you can stop it,” said Shupe. “You can make a difference for that kid that's getting picked on.”
The St. James Youth Council is made up of about 25 youth members of St. James who want to make a positive impact on the lives of people in the St. James area. They have volunteered at multiple events and community meetings during this last year including Rake the Town, Meals on Wheels and a recent funeral. Any youth member of St. James can join after a short application process.
“I think we need a lot less tolerance and a lot less standing by while kids are getting bullied,” said Shupe. “We want to get kids to realize that a word to some kid repeatedly is going to do a lot more damage than you think it does. Most people, most kids, don't remember the kids they bullied, but if you were bullied you don't forget the names of the people who did the stuff to you.”
The St. James Youth Council is dedicated to helping those students who are bullied and afraid to attend school every day. With the community supporting them, they hope to make St. James a bully-free zone.