County organizations partner to present national expert with anti-bully message

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In 2013, a 10-year-old Boiling Springs Elementary School student said she was bullied at school.

Her experience touched off a fire storm of concern from the community.

The student’s parents were joined by other parents to create Parents Against Bullying. The group attended the March 2013 school board meeting, carrying signs with anti-bullying messages and asking the board to take action.

In response to the group, an anonymous bullying hotline, a task force and other steps were taken to create awareness.

The issue of bullying affects everyone in the community, said Dr. Charles Hayek, chairman of the Cleveland County Board of Health and a local pediatrician.

“We all have had experience with it,” Hayek said.

He’s had young patients who endured so much bullying that they had to change schools or be homeschooled.

“We may know adults who are even bullies,” Hayek said. “So it is an issue that affects all ages in so many settings – school, at home with spouses and children, social groups and work.”

‘What we permit, we promote’

Because of the local and national focus on the problem, when Hayek and his colleagues heard a presentation by Dr. Sharon W. Cooper on the topic of bullying, they wanted to bring her to Cleveland County.

“Wow, she is a national expert, exciting, dynamic, and so inspiring, especially for issues like bullying and social media,” Hayek said.

Cooper will spend the day in Cleveland County on Tuesday. At noon, she will be the keynote speaker for the 11th annual Paul M. Sarazen Jr. forum on child health issues, sponsored by the Cleveland County Health Department and Alliance for Health for healthcare professionals in the community. In the afternoon, she will speak to Cleveland County Schools staff – counselors, social workers, nurses, resource officers and Communities in Schools staff.

In the evening, she will speak in a free community forum at 7 at Malcolm Brown Auditorium.

“We encourage everyone who can to attend,” Hayek said. “The more we know and are equipped to address this issue, the healthier our community will be.”

The Alliance for Health is sponsoring the event, because of its mission to promote prevention and health education, said Dotty Leatherwood, chairperson of the Alliance.

“We have focused on heart disease, diabetes, teen pregnancy, drug abuse and many other issues that impact the lives of our citizens,” said Leatherwood, who is also executive director of Cleveland HealthCare Foundation. “To create change, there must be individual accountability. With national data showing that 1 in 4 children are bullied at school, 1 in 5 children are cyber-bullied, the Alliance Board feels strongly that bringing Dr. Cooper will create an awareness of the issue and hopefully an understanding that ‘What we permit, we promote.’ Mean is just not an individual behavior that is acceptable.”

‘Recognize, respond and support’

Cooper will help parents and others understand what bullying is, why it is wrong and what can be done about it. A certified pediatrician, Cooper serves as an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the School of Medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill. She has written and presented extensively on the issues of child abuse and neglect, child sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect, family violence prevention, parenting practices, internet crimes against children, bullying and cyberbullying.

Brian Hunnell, Cleveland County Schools Director of Administrative Services, said the school system is excited about partnering with the Health Department and the Alliance for Health to present the public forum.

“We would like for all of our stakeholders to have a better understanding of what bullying is, the warning signs that go along with bullying, and the consequences of bullying,” Hunnell said. “Furthermore the forum will address the need to know how to recognize, respond and support the individuals.”

Hunnell said the forum will reinforce what the school system does every day to ensure the safety of students.

“Bullying is a very important issue to us, and we work hard every day to ensure our students feel safe at school,” he said. “Our schools do many things to bring awareness to this issue and to help our students that may be experiencing bullying.”

Some of the activities include counseling, bully-free pledges, class lessons, pep-rallies, songs, posters and wearing orange for bullying awareness, he said.

“As a district, we have set-up an informational website and an anonymous tip-line to help our parents and students with this topic,” Hunnell said.

Help for the bully and the bullied

Samantha Davis, one of the organizers of Parents Against Bullying, said she hopes the forum will be eye-opening for everyone.

“I’m hoping the parents and everyone will get an understanding of what bullying is and how we can help the kids being bullied and the ones doing the bullying, because they have problems too,” she said.

Davis’ son was bullied for three years at Shelby Middle School. Through the parent group, she helps other parents who are in similar situations.

“I’m glad they are doing this,” she said. “You are not going to prevent something if you don’t get it out there.”

She is also hoping Anti-Bullying Week will be observed in the schools.

“The kids are at school every day of the week,” she said.

Want to go?

The community forum on bullying and cyber bullying featuring national expert, Dr. Sharon W. Cooper, a pediatrician from Fayetteville, will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 7 at Malcolm Brown Auditorium. It is free and open to the public. Resources and information will also be available.

How can I report bullying in schools?

Cleveland County Schools has an anonymous Bullying Hotline.

Find the “Stop Bullying Now” form at http://www.clevelandcountyschools.org/ under Resources.

Parents Against Bullying

Find information about the group on Facebook at Parents Against Bullying.