TWIN FALLS • A new anti-bullying campaign at Robert Stuart Middle School encourages students to use simple acts of kindness to create a chain reaction.
School resource officer Steven Gassert is launching a new “Rise Above Bullying” campaign.
During a class presentation Thursday, he told sixth-graders there are consequences even for witnessing bullying.
“You are just as guilty of bullying if you’re being that bystander,” he said.
Verbal bullying can lead to long-term damage such as depression and self harm, he told students.
And it may go unnoticed and unreported for longer periods of time than physical bullying, he said.
If you wouldn’t say something to your parents, “you probably shouldn’t say it at school,” Gassert told students.
As for cyber bullying, such as via Snapchat and Facebook, he said is the largest issue he deals with at Robert Stuart.
To kick off the new anti-bullying campaign, Robert Stuart students and employees are participating in a “Kindness Week.”
They wore orange clothing on Wednesday, which was a national awareness day held by PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center.
In the hallways between classes, Gassert handed out candy and Clif Bars donated by businesses.
Robert Stuart’s front windows are decorated with drawings and anti-bullying statements. Students also painted the school rock orange.
In February 2013, Gassert created a “bully bucket,” which was installed in the school library.
Students who are bullied can drop a form into the bucket. Gassert and administrators review the forms and confront the bullies face-to-face.
Now, he’s launching a second phase of the project, which will include more teacher and parent involvement.
“I’ve realized it’s really a community issue,” he said.
Gassert wants to organize an event to help parents learn what’s defined as bullying and how to report it.
He also plans to reach out to businesses for help, and to bring in speakers to train employees about being proactive — rather in reactive — in addressing bullying.
Robert Stuart student Kaitlyn Durbin, 12, said she has noticed classmates being kind to each other this week. And in the past, some of her friends have used the school’s “bully bucket.”
Classmate Louie Cresto, 12, said he thinks anti-bullying efforts have reduced the number of incidents at the school. He said he hasn’t seen bullying take place, but would intervene if he did.
So what qualifies as bullying?
“Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance,” according to stopbullying.gov, a website managed by the U.S. Department of Health Human Services.
It generally involves repeated actions over a period of time, the website states.
Many Magic Valley school districts have policies prohibiting bullying and outlining the consequences.
In the Twin Falls district, punishments range up to suspension or expulsion from school, depending on the incident.