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North puts on third annual anti-bullying program

SUWANEE — Doing nothing could be the worst thing to do. And a retweet might as well be applause.

That was part of the message on Wednesday at North Gwinnett High during a third annual school-wide anti-bullying program that had the theme, “Stand Up and Speak Out.” Using resources from the Anti-Defamation League’s No Place for Hate program, Assistant Principal Kirsten Baker organized the program with more than 250 upperclassmen who were trained as freshman mentors, and taped signs and posters around the school.

The program will become an initiative across the North Gwinnett cluster, and Baker said a public service announcement is planned for North Gwinnett Middle in November.

The school also sold T-shirts during lunch at cost — $6 — to promote the campaign. Students were also encouraged to sign a “resolution of respect” that they would step up and say something if they witnessed bullying. The idea behind the program is to empower the bystander to take the power away from a bully, Baker said. Two years ago, the school used the campaign, “Stop Sipping the Haterade,” and last year’s theme was “Randon Acts of Kindness.”

After her research on the subject, Baker said 85 percent of all bullying incidents have a witness, someone only does something 10 percent of the time and 50 percent of all bullying stops within 10 seconds if someone steps in and does something.

Baker said the goal is to teach students to think beyond the bias.

“What you think is a joke is not a joke to everybody,” she said.

During a program for freshmen, upperclassmen defined bullying and offered statistics and examples, several students admitted that they’ve bullied or have been victims of bullying.

“It’s an eye opener because they didn’t realize that many people have been through similar things,” junior Austin Everson said.

The use of technology and social media in recent years has fueled bullies and made them anonymous, Baker said. Bullies can send texts or make insenstive online comments about race, sexuality, or body type.

“The ability to say something without looking in someone’s eye,” she said. “If I don’t have to face you, I can say whatever I want. It empowers them to be more outlandish, or more cruel. It’s so easy to use your thumbs to say, ‘Can you believe what she was wearing the other day?’ They’re not private conversations any more, they’re public conversations.”

While North Gwinnett conducts perception surveys each year, teachers and students said it was difficult to determine how prevalent bullying is, because many cases go unreported.

“It’s not as bad at our school, because I’ve been to other schools and seen that it is worse other places, but it’s still a problem,” junior Joanna Brown said.

Brown added that the program helped to remind students about bullying because they’re sometimes de-sensitized to it.

“Having 40 minutes to talk about tells kids that, ‘Look, this really isn’t OK’ and it gets the point across,” she said.