Program helps HSIS unite against bullying

The Sentinel-Record/Richard Rasmussen TOGETHER AGAINST BULLYING: Hot Springs High School Dance Troupe members, from left, Alyssa Brown, Cheyenna Williams, Taylor Bell, Cassidy Miller and Ahna Tolich prepare to perform Wednesday at Hot Springs Intermediate School for a Unity Day program. Unity Day was celebrated on Wednesday and encourages students to be united for kindness, acceptance and inclusion.

Hot Springs Intermediate School held its second annual anti-bullying program Wednesday for the national Unity Day campaign.

The Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights National Bullying Prevention Center founded National Bullying Prevention and Awareness Week in 2006. The event was expanded to all of October in 2010.

The campaign is meant to unite communities across the country, to educate and raise awareness of bullying prevention. The PACER Center has sponsored Unity day since 2011.

Wilda Hughley, French and Spanish teacher, planned the first program at the school a year ago. Hughley introduced a student, Savanah Brown, to students, faculty and staff on Wednesday to share her own experiences with bullying.

"It's like a disease; it affects our country," Brown said. "It can affect many children in many different ways. It can make kids bring themselves to the point where they cut or want to kill themselves.

"I say that we should make a stand and all realize that should we really allow this to happen or should we make a change and be the change?"

Brown said she confronted one of her bullies, who denied her accusations. He claimed others bullied her instead.

"I knew I was the bigger person because I had the bravery to confront this person and tell him and ask him why," Brown said. "Then he decided just to lie to me. I don't know if it was true what he said about the other people, but it hurt really bad."

Brown said she has been bullied for a long time. She said she hopes school can be a safe haven so other are not bullied as she has been.

Susie Reece, chairwoman of the Garland County Suicide Prevention Coalition, was invited to speak during the program. She called for a moment of silence for those who have been bullied.

"What is wrong with me?" Reece asked students to consider. "The thing is, that's a question bullies thrive on. They use that question against us. I should know because I've had lots of bullies throughout my entire life. People have picked on me for lots of different reasons."

Reece said bullies come in all shapes and sizes. She said people can face bullies at school, but also within their families.

"Those bullies can be some of the hardest ones to deal with because they should know us," Reece said. "The problem was they thought they knew me."

Reece shared how she was adopted by her grandparents of a different ethnic background after her father died by suicide when she was young.

"It was a difference; it was something people picked on," Reece said. "They realized I wasn't the same and they made fun of me for it. They made fun of me for what my father did."

Most of the students raised their hands when Reece asked who has been bullied before. She said Unity Day is about bonding together against bullying.

She referenced a story describing everyone as three types of people: quitters, who give up early; campers, who start to attempt something, but settle when they get comfortable and do not move further; and climbers.

"They are the people that no matter what keep going because they know in the end it will be worth it," Reece said. "You have the ability to decide whether you are going to be a quitter, a camper or a climber and no one in the world will tell you who you are going to be unless you let them."

Reece said everyone can achieve more when they unite together.

The program includes multiple performances by students. Amy Bramlett's Hot Springs Dance Troupe, made up of students in grades 8-10 at the middle school and high school, performed one of their routines. Alexis Pritch's dance students presented two routines.

Hannah Johnson and Lunnel Yates sang a duet, Mya Sanders sang a song and Cameron Cheek performed a dance routine alone. Lisbeth Chavez, Jelanna Griffith, Nassir Hannah, Mia Long, Violet Loua and Victoria McNeal acted in a skit. Little Miss Victorious Aiyana Sharp performed her own routine on a hoverboard.

Local on 10/20/2016