SPECIAL REPORT: Bullying in the CSRA

Annettea "The General" Mills
Annettea "The General" Mills

AUGUSTA (WJBF)

When a bullying victim cries out for help, there is one woman who is always listening.

“Every day, 5-6 moms calling me with different issues, from Burke County all the way down to Aiken County. It is a problem.”

Annettea Mills started  Saving Our Students–S.O.S.  It’s a group that’s all about bullying. It helps students report, and schools repair the problem.

“I teach them that I’m their voice,” Mills says. “I’m their advocate. Parents I’m your advocate. Come see me.”

Annettea and her team  launched the Bullying Logs program.  It’s so much more than a notebook.  It gives victims the power of pen and paper. And privacy.

“We give them to the students so they can write anything they want to in that log.  They can state where they are being bullied, when, where, how, who was it. Anything they feel applies to the bullying situation, they can put in that log.”

School leaders check out and act on the things they read in the log. Same thing goes for the bullying packets that Mills helped get into the schools.

“We’ve had workshops where we’ve actually shown our parents how to fill out the bullying packets, and they’re really receptive to it,  and our principals are on board as well.”

And in the past few weeks, she’s brought on the Voice program–letting students sit around and talk it out.

“The students told us what they wanted. When we first started, Brad, it was very quiet, but before the end, they were using their big voices.”

It is encouraging, inspiring to witness Mills’ enthusiasm. But just like Psychiatrist Dale Peeples,  Just like school administrators Penny Jackson and Nathan Benedict, Just like the bullying victims themselves who went on TV and bravely told their stories, Mills knows she cannot do this alone.  She, like all of us here at News Channel 6 wants everyone to play a part in making life for our children, better.

“I just hope that our students can realize that there is someone out here, or our schools, there is someone out here who is trying to change the face of bullying,” Mills says. “I just feel like we can get over it. But it’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of solutions, and a lot of boots on the ground.”


AUGUSTA (WJBF)

The stories we’ve shared this week, and the kids comments we’ve heard are heartbreaking.

“It always makes me sad that people keep calling me small,” says one young bullying victim.

And they texted me on Kik and they said, maybe you should go and die,” says another victim.

Sometimes bullying gets so bad it can’t be fixed in the classroom.  It calls for clinical intervention.

“You’ve got physical bullying: pushing, kicking, physical assault,” says Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Dale Peeples. “You’ve got verbal bullying: calling names, making threats. Then there’s cyber-bullying over the internet.  You also have bullying that’s destruction of property, vandalizing someone’s belongings. And finally there’s social bullying: exclusion, ostracizing.”

Dr. Dale Peeples has seen it all. And he knows the warning signs.

“With girls you’re going to see internalizing symptoms. They’re going to have trouble with depression and anxiety.  Boys who are bullied sometimes can have more externalizing behaviors. They can begin to act out. They can get aggressive as well.”

And the impact can last long after the bullying has stopped. A student’s academic performance can continue to decline.

“In addition to that you also see higher rates of depression 3-5 years after bullying has been a problem at school.”

Dr. Peeples teaches his patients how to cope.

“Let’s think about where this bullying is happening.  Are there ways without drastically changing your daily routine that we might minimize the times when it can occur? Who can we look to as social support, can we build up your network of friends? Because bullies are more likely to go after kids when they’re isolated, when they’re individual.”

But it’s more than just coping with bullying. Families have to communicate with their kids in order to fix this.

“There will be many times a child comes into the office here and this is the first time the parents are aware of the degree of bullying that’s going on in the school,” Peeples says.

Dr. Peeples can do his part to help break the cycle of bullying, but he’ll be the first to tell you, a big part of the solution starts at home.

“Building a child’s sense of self-esteem and self-worth is something that every parent can help with–trying to identify activities outside of school that they are going to enjoy, that they can build their social support network.”

And the doctor isn’t just here to treat the victim. He can help bullies learn to be nice too. That’s something that also starts with some self-examination, to see if you might be raising a mean kid.

“When there is aggression in the home, when they are witnessing domestic violence, they are more likely to engage in bullying.”

 


 

Every day, tens of thousands of our children head off to school for what we hope will be a happy, productive day.  But for many of those youngsters, bullies step in and take a lot away from that educational experience.  We’ve heard from the victims this week.  Tonight, we talk to the people in charge of discipline in our schools, to see what they’re doing about bullying.

Bullying does so much more than bring physical and emotional pain to the victim.  It can impact their academic performance.  And school leaders know it.

“You can’t teach if students are not part of the learning process,” says Penny Jackson of Columbia County Schools. “If they’re fearful, if they’re not talking, if they’re not wanting to participate.”

“Any time you have a disruption of any kind to the learning environment, that takes away from the teaching time,” says Nathan Benedict of Richmond County Schools. “And that takes away from students being able to get their education.”

All of the school systems we talked to in our area have procedures in place to deal with bullies and help their victims.  But in order for it to work, it’s a process that parents and students have to start.

“If our adults are brought into the picture, and parents bring it to our attention, if it’s occurring and they find out about it, then we do everything possible to make sure that all of our students feel safe and want to be at school,” Jackson says.

And if you’re not comfortable reporting the abuse, then nobody has to know you did.

“The student, the parent can come to the school house and fill out a bullying packet,” Benedict says. “That can also be found online under our parent resource tab. It’s a one page form that gets the investigative process started.”

School websites and drop boxes are also good ways to quietly report your concerns.


AUGUSTA (WJBF)

Called me names. Hit me. Stuff like that.”

Our special report continues with a look at two victims telling us how they cope. One is still making it through high school. The other is in college and working to help others overcome bullying. Here are their stories:
Bullying does so much more than cause physical or emotional pain. When you’re a victim, the constant abuse can wreck your world. It can suck the joy right out of school and leave you feeling like you are all alone.  And that’s a feeling that’s hard to outgrow.

“But sometimes I just can’t ignore it. It just gets to me where it hurts.”

Dorothy is in high school now but what happened to her during her middle school days is still so fresh.

“Called me names. Hit me. Stuff like that.”

“There was a boy in 7th grade,” Dorothy says. “He was taller than me. He kept grabbing me by the throat. One hand. He slammed me on the ground every time.”

If you’re the parent of somebody  who’s been bullied you know that trying to figure out why it’s happening to your child feels like a big waste of time.
The reasons are just so sad.

“Because I’m not like them. I’m different.”

“Because I wasn’t the smartest one back then.”
This bright young man made it through the bullying years and is in college now.
Why did they pick on him?

“My name. Rudolph. Rudolph is always something in itself, Rudolph the red nosed reindeer. That’s kind of where it started. Being dark-skinned, that started it even more.”
That kind of cruelty can eventually start to mess with a child’s mind.

“It began to make me think, am I a reindeer?”
“Sure. You were little,” I said.
“It had me thinking about different things like that,” Rudolph said. “It really kept me in deep thought.”
Rudolph still spends a lot of time in deep thought, but these days he’s thinking about other victims.  He hosts a weekly radio show and talks to young people about bullying and self-esteem.  He’s making a real connection.

“They understand. And I have students coming back to me now who remember some of the things that I’ve told them. And that’s the greatest feeling in the world.”
The world needs more Rudolphs.  More people to help more Dorothy’s.

“I just want to go home. Get away from the stuff.”
More advocates to give the victims a voice.

“Because of the person you’re turning out to be, Rudolph are you glad you got bullied?
“Yeah, yeah.  I don’t regret it because it’s hard to speak on something you’ve never been through.  I was happy to be able to experience that because now I can speak on it and help others come through it.”

Rudolph even hosts a weekly radio program to help young people.
Real Talk with Youth show. It’s on 94.7FM. They cover
bullying, self-esteem, college, every topic that youth deal with.
That’s 6-8pm Saturday nights on  94.7FM

 


“Hopefully we can be able to reduce any instances of bullying that might be taking place.”

CSRA (WJBF) – Join us every night this week on NewsChannel 6 at 11 as we take an in-depth look at bullying in our area.

We interviewed several young people for this special series.  They are victims of bullying and they opened their hearts to us.

“I used to talk a lot,” says Madison, a 6th grader.
“Then I started being quieter. Keeping to myself. Sitting by myself.”

Madison’s isolation started with her eyesight. She had to get glasses and all that did was make some other kids focus on being mean.

“When I got my glasses, people were like, when I cleaned them, they were like ‘oooh, you’re ugly, you’re ugly put back on your glasses, you look better with them on.'”

“I go to the guidance counselor. She talks to all of us. She asks them, why are they doing this to me. And they say, I don’t know. She’s just ugly.”

(Brad): “You know you’re not ugly, right? You know you’re a beautiful girl. You believe that right?”
“Right.”
(Brad): “Well it’s the truth. And you can’t let those people get you down.”
I asked Madison if she got the chance, and they couldn’t talk back to her, what she’d say to the bullies.

“I would say why are you being mean to me? Can’t you please just leave me alone. Stop being mean to me.”
“You think that would work.”
“It never does.”

We also spent some time with Noah. He’s a little younger than Madison but has a lot in common with her.

“They keep name-calling everyone. Most of the time it’s always me that gets shoved and bullied,” the 5th grader says.

It can take the joy right out of elementary school when you’re constantly being harassed about your height.

“It always makes me sad that people keep calling me small,” Noah says. “I am small, but they always say I have to be the perfect height for my grade.”

I could have hung out with Noah all day. He’s smart, he’s a great conversationalist, and he might be getting kicked but nobody’s gonna keep this kid down.

“I think I’m gonna turn out fine. My mom’s taking care of it all.”

Noah tells me he might join the Air Force one day.  Yep, he’ll fly through this tough phase of his life and grow up to protect us all. Most of us anyway.

“I’ll protect the people that never bullied me in my life. But if they keep bullying me all throughout my life, I might not help them with anything they need.”
(Brad): “They better start being nice to you.”
“Well they never do.”

Noah and Madison.  Even if you’ve never met them, you know them. Bullying victims. Enduring it until they can overcome it.


 

My news director pulled me aside last year for my annual evaluation.  I’m sure you’ve gone through it at your job—you sit in a room and hope that the person on the other side of the table finds favor with you.  The meeting usually ends with a pat on the back and the assurance that you’re a valued member of the team.

Last year’s meeting included a question that really stuck with me.  Kathy said, “Brad, what’s your passion?”  I’m sure I rattled off my standard response: “world peace, family, and Crimson Tide football”, or something like that.   But the question needed to be answered–what IS my true passion when it comes to the television news business?   We journalists all have our reasons for signing up for this job with the weird hours, time away from family, and all the free pizza you can eat on election night.  But I submit that the primary reason that many of us say “yes” to this gig is to be a voice for the voiceless.  It is our distinct privilege to get answers where others can’t, to right wrongs if we’re able, and to hold the powerful accountable.

Those beliefs, that passion, gave birth to a special series of reports that are about to air on WJBF NewsChannel 6.  The series is all about bullying.   It’s about putting a face on a problem that rears its ugly head every day.   It’s about the way human beings treat one another.  It’s about being a voice for the youngest victims and hoping the grown ups in charge take notice.

So let’s take this journey together next week.  Every night on our 11pm newscasts we’ll show you what we learned when we explored the world of bullying in our area.  We will let the young people tell their own stories.  It won’t take long for you to hear the pain in their voices. You will get a real feel for how the mean kids in their lives have hurt them, scared them, or made them just want to run and hide.

We will also hear from the people who run our local schools.  We’ll let them tell us what they are doing about bullying.

We will  spend time with a child and adolescent psychiatrist. He’s Dr. Dale Peeples and I loved meeting  and interviewing him.  He’s smart, down to earth, and truly cares about making kids have happier lives.

And finally we’re going to hear from one woman who has made it her life’s mission to help students win the battle against bullies in thoughtful, peaceful ways.

Keep checking back on this page–I  am going to post some of the raw footage from my interviews. I think it will give you a deeper perspective on these stories as we prepare to air them each night.  You can look for a different “snippet” of raw video each day.

Last but not least, let me know what you think.  You can visit my Facebook page-Brad Means WJBF-or drop me an email at bmeans@wjbf.com.  Thanks for taking the time to read this and thanks for watching us on NewsChannel 6.

 

 

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