Bullying – the statistics are alarming. Recent studies have revealed that 77% of all students across the country have reported they had been bullied. Every 7 minutes, of every single day, a child is “bullied.” Only 4% of these children said that an adult had “come to their aid.” 11% said that a peer was there to intervene, while 85% of these children reported that they had been bullied and left “on their own.”
Notoriously Middle School is where bullying tends to be most prevalent. Students are in the early stages of adolescence and are vulnerable to pressure. Teens naturally feel “a need to belong and fit in.” When children are bullied (approx. 1 in 3 at school) there is a feeling of helplessness and isolation, sometimes lasting a lifetime! 86% of children, aged 12-15, have reported that bullying has interfered with their studies. 43% of this same age group have confirmed that they are “afraid” to use the bathroom or go to their locker alone…
Earlier this Summer, Dedham Middle School Principal Debra Gately, caught wind of an Anti-Bullying Educational Initiative – “Be the Difference, Speak Up Against Bullying”, sponsored by the Office Depot Foundation. This Foundation, a non-profit, philanthropic arm of the Office Depot stores, had partnered with the teen sensation UK boy-band, One Direction. Together, they raised more than $1 million to launch an extensive national campaign to increase awareness and help put an end to this ever-growing problem.
Mary Wong, president of the Office Depot Foundation, says that the Foundation “is committed to helping children succeed in school and in life.” Wong went on to further state “we are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with One Direction, Office Depot and Brooks Gibbs, to help create a safe, bully-free environment in Middle Schools across the United States.”
Brooks Gibbs, the man chosen to be the voice of this experience, is a youth author, a teen crisis counselor and a bullying expert. He provides a solid framework to help teens build an end to bullying, using a seven-step plan that has been called “a movement to live with kindness and compassion.” Thanks to grants, provided by the Office Depot Foundation, Gibbs has embarked on a 10-month (Sept. to June) coast to coast Middle School Tour across the country. It is the goal of these assemblies, to get the word out to over 1 million students, that “they can be the difference, and to speak up against bullying.” A dynamic young speaker, Brooks tells the audience that he became a bullying “expert” by being bullied his whole life. During his one-man show, Gibbs preaches the “Golden Rule” – treat others the way you want them to treat you!
Fortunately, the Dedham Middle School was chosen to be a part of this experience. We had the opportunity to attend one of his hour-long “listen, learn and care” assemblies and speak to Gibbs afterwards. He told us that he wants to teach children “how to be strong and not to return anger with anger.” It is key that you “don`t allow the negative words or actions of others to control your life.” There is plenty of help available and your actions, not getting mad at the bully, can be the best defense of all. Gibbs tells the children that the “best way to destroy your enemies, is when they become your friends.” A bully thrives on the attention and the response of the person targeted.
At the end of his assembly, Brooks Gibbs walked off the stage and in to the crowd of boys and girls, grades 6-8. The response to his presentation was amazing. There were high-fives, hand- shakes, smiles and even a few hugs from the DMS students. Principal Gately said that “having a zero-tolerance policy in place at the school, sometimes isn`t enough. You must engage the students in discussions on bullying and its impact on the victims.” What a great job by everyone involved to keep this issue on the front burner.
Story and photos by: Joe Kilroy