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NEW BREMEN — A local school district is taking strides to combat a problem in schools by tearing down a wall of verbal bullying.
Throughout the week, students at New Bremen Elementary and Middle School viewed a wall of 100 hurtful words that was torn down little by little each day. Elementary/Middle School Guidance Counselor Julie Lee said she was hoping to show the students how powerful their words are.
“The whole idea was to tear down the wall of verbal bullying,” she said. “I wanted to bring awareness to the fact that our words are powerful.”
Lee said she got the idea for the bully wall after watching an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, which shared the story of an 11-year-old who committed suicide after she encountered bullying. Locally, Lee said students in grades three though 12 recently took an online survey, and 60 percent of students responded that bullying is a problem in New Bremen Local Schools and 53 percent responded that students do not respect each other.
“I took those statistics to heart,” Lee said. “There’s something here we need to address.”
She noted while she believes New Bremen Local Schools does not have an extreme problem with bullying, it does exist in the district.
“I’m not saying that our school is any different that any other school,” Lee said. “It’s (bullying is) kind of like the elephant in the room though.”
She the fight against bullying needed to start from within the schools.
“It starts from within,” she said. “We have great teachers, great kids and a supportive community.”
Lee, along with middle school students in the CAKE Club — Caring and Kindness Expected — wrote 100 words that are hurtful toward others. Lee said the words were written on red paper and pieced together like bricks along the cafeteria wall for students to see while they ate lunch.
“We did it for the impact of it,” Lee said of why she displayed the offensive words on the wall. “When you have 100 words up there all together, you think, ‘Gosh, words are powerful.’”
Lee noted that students making hurtful comments toward each other is a form of bullying.
“When we think of bullying, it’s not just hitting of kicking somebody,” she said.
She noted that verbal bullying can leave a lasting mark on a student.
“Verbal bullying a lot of times stays with us a lot longer than physical bullying,” Lee said. “We remember the hurtful words that people say to us.”
A section of the wall was torn down each day to reveal a message to students and staff Friday morning.
“It said ‘bullying stops here,’” Lee said of the message. “We want to make this a bully free zone.”
Lee said students in CAKE Club interviewed their peers during the week about things they could do to be nicer to each other, and students responded with things like not saying hurtful things and apologizing. The group has collected a list of nice things that students can say and do to construct a nice wall, which will debut next week.
“We’re going to construct a wall with positive things,” Lee said, noting that saying things like accepting an apology and apologizing to others will be on the wall. “All of those things together are going to make a positive environment.”
In addition to the new, positive wall, students will be provided with a reading list of positive books and CAKE Club members will visit classrooms to talk more with students about bullying.
Lee said she hopes the bully wall will make students think twice about what they say to each other.
“I’m hoping that in the future, they will think, “That word was on the wall, maybe I shouldn’t say that,’” she said.