By NICK MARIANO
MT. VERNON — —
Hundreds of students at the J.L. Buford Intermediate Education Center eagerly pledged not to be a bully and to take steps to avoid being bullied on Wednesday as part of Red Ribbon Week at Mt. Vernon District 80 schools.
The pledge came during an assembly to learn about what bullying is, reasons it occurs and what to do if bullied, as presented by Grounder, the mascot for the Southern Illinois Miners, and his partner, James Earles.
The key message was to let students know that bullying does exist and that many students are bullied every day, Earles said.
“We want to let them know that they are not alone and that they can seek help,” he said.
The anti-bullying campaign is a new program the Miners organization started last month, with about 30 schools scheduled for Grounder’s presentation. There is no cost to schools, Earles said.
In making the pledge, students agreed to a four-point promise to: Not bully or fight back; talk with a trusted adult when bullying arises; support the person being bullied, and to “stick with your buddies.”
Students learned that bullying is not limited to physical violence but also includes name-calling, pranks and exclusion from group activities.
While Red Ribbon Week is not new to the district, traditionally it has focused solely on messages against drug use, Buford counselor April Hertenstein said.
However, October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month and Hertenstein said district educators elected to also highlight bullying as part of the week’s activities.
“We thought this works out really well. We can incorporate all this together when they are already listening about an awareness of some type,” the counselor said.
Students at the school have also been wearing a variety of costumes this week as reminders of the Red Ribbon learning experience. On Wednesday, they were wearing costumes of their favorite heroes.
Both of 5th-grader Brady Young’s grandfathers served in the military, and he chose to dress as a soldier for the day because “they protect us,” he said.
Then he added: “It’s very wrong to bully anyone because it hurts people.”