Canton students unite, walk against bullying
By Emily McFarlan Miller email@example.com @emmillerwrites October 9, 2013 7:20PM
Students at Canton Middle School in Streamwood sit next to an anti-bullying poster Wednesday. | Joe Cyganowski-For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 11, 2013 12:22PM
STREAMWOOD — Last year was “one of the worst years of school” for Dulcinea Lopez, said the now-eighth-grader at Canton Middle School.
Kids made fun of her dark, chin-length hair and told her she wasn’t important or wanted at school, Dulcinea said, and she didn’t feel safe.
“It makes me feel like when they tell me I’m not important, I start to believe them,” she said.
On Wednesday afternoon, the 14-year-old wore an orange T-shirt as she walked laps around the school building with her classmates. Her hair was cropped close in an orange faux hawk, and she’d written “Stop bullying” in blue marker down her arm.
Others waved pompoms and carried “Be the pride” banners.
The T-shirts, the demonstrations and the walk all were part of activities celebrating Unity Day, a day to unite behind those who are being bullied to make it end. The event was sponsored by an organization called PACER and its National Bullying Prevention Center.
State Rep. Fred Crespo (D-Hoffman Estates), Streamwood Mayor Billie Roth, other village officials and parents joined more than 700 students in grades seven and eight for the walk, an idea that came last year when Kendra Luft’s eighth-graders took second place in an anti-bullying video contest through Hanover Township.
Luft stumbled across PACER online while Googling bullying prevention videos to see what other students had come up with, she said.
She learned that October is Bullying Prevention Month and that the second Wednesday of the month is Unity Day, encouraging people to “Make It Orange and Make It End.” She also learned communities nationwide were joining PACER to plan “Run, Walk, Roll Against Bullying” 5K events.
The reading teacher realized this was something the school could do, and she took it to her fellow teachers over lunch, she said.
“It just snowballed from there,” she said.
The 5K walk — or close to it, since a couple laps around the school building is about three miles — turned into a T-shirt design contest for students and a raffle for their parents.
Canton students started their day watching the 2011 documentary “Bully,” which follows five families dealing with bullying. Two had lost children to suicide after they had been bullied; one girl had ended up in the court system after she brought her mother’s gun on a school bus to scare her bullies into leaving her alone; and two others shared their experiences being bullied.
The local students shared their reactions to the documentary on blue pledge cards, turning those cards into paper chains that linked classrooms in the building. They participated in team-building activities and an all-school assembly before circling the school in a stream of student-designed orange T-shirts.
“This is the stuff the kids are going to remember — not, ‘What was my reading lesson when I was in seventh or eighth grade?’ ” Luft said.
Bullying hasn’t been a huge problem at Canton, according to reading teacher Anna Hallock McEvilly.
But then, McEvilly said, bullying doesn’t look the way it used to, either. It’s not the kids being pushed into lockers or garbage cans of 1980s comedy shows, she said.
“We do know there is bullying going on in our building. There is teasing and name-calling. They’re not quite being caught because they’re doing it so quietly,” she said.
Many also are doing it online, and the school isn’t part of students’ “online lives,” she said. But those feelings come back to school, that stress comes back to school, and the school has to deal with it, she said.
Statewide, Crespo said, 42 percent of kids report they have been bullied online — 25 percent, more than once. Another 35 percent report they have been threatened online; and, most concerning to Crespo, 58 percent report they have not told a parent or another adult about the bullying.
That’s why the school is trying to take a proactive approach to bullying, McEvilly said.
“There’s two big parts, I think to this movement, the anti-bullying. It’s not just about the kids talking about it and letting us know about it. It’ll be a lot more of their peers stepping up and saying, ‘Stop it. We don’t do that here,’ ” Canton Principal Jeff Smith said.
Students can be especially effective in stopping bullying, according to PACER. More than half of bullying situations (57 percent) stop when a peer intervenes on behalf of the student being bullied, it said.
All that takes is someone saying, “You shouldn’t be doing that,” said Dulcinea, who noted her situation has improved since teachers started talking about bullying.
It takes giving students skills and resources to stand up for one another, according to PACER. It takes an environment of respect and tolerance within a school, and at Canton, eighth-grader Vanessa Aguilar, 14, said, “We’re like a family.”
“It’s like a big family.”