NAUGATUCK — With several high-profile cases of suicide among teens who were victims of bullying in recent years, bullying has been a hot topic among school districts and legislators trying to figure out how to prevent it.
In July, the Connecticut General Assembly approved legislation that attempts to address the situation by requiring all school employees become mandatory reporters of bullying and receive training to prevent and respond to bullying and suicide. The law requires schools to create a safe school climate committee to come up with a plan to prevent and monitor bullying, whether it occurs on school grounds or in cyberspace.
At Naugatuck High School, two students are taking the issue into their own hands.
Juniors Chelsea Maza and Mason Cabanas are creating an anti-bullying program as part of a DECA marketing competition.
“When they came up with the idea, I thought it was a great idea,” DECA advisor Tim Reilly said.
For the past two years, NHS has sponsored an anti-bullying program called “Names Can Really Hurt,” which is put on by the Anti-Defamation League, but this year, the school didn’t have funding to do it, according to Reilly.
Maza said the two were searching for a topic for the competition when they saw one student screaming at another one. Security had to come to break up the fight.
That’s when they decided to address the common issue.
“I think it’s a big problem across the nation,” Maza said.
According to the Connecticut School Health Survey, 25 percent of the state’s high school students, and 35 percent of ninth graders have reported bullying at school in the past year.
Students who report being bullied are more likely to get less sleep, miss school because they feel unsafe, feel depressed, attempt suicide, have property stolen at school, carry a weapon to school and experience dating violence, according to the survey.
Maza said most bullying at Naugatuck High School is verbal, like calling students inappropriate names.
Titled “Crossing the Line,” Maza and Cabanas will present an interactive assembly to the sophomore class Jan. 11.
Maza said the pair decided to present their program to the sophomore class because that age group has the highest rate of suicide.
The program will include information on who to go to if students are bullied or observe others being bullied, as well as how to prevent and stop bullying if they see it in the hallways and how to avoid becoming a bully themselves.
Sophomores will then break into their advisory groups to delve deeper into the topic with activities and discussions.
At the end of the assembly, students will have a chance to tell their classmates their personal bullying stories, so that people can see that it does happen in their own grade, Maza said.
Maza said she hopes to program helps lessen bullying at NHS. She said the more people who are involved, the bigger effect it will have.
“The goal is to at least lower the amount of bullying that happens at least at our school and hopefully in our community,” Maza said.
Maza said she and Mason have recruited over 70 upperclassmen and about ten teachers to help run the program.
The following week, Maza and Cabanas will sponsor a spirit week to raise awareness on bullying, with activities planned throughout the week. Maza said one day, they plan to set up an inflatable boxing ring to show how ridiculous physical violence is. The week will culminate in students signing a pledge not to be a bully.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for the kids to be leaders but also for the sophomore class (and all the students in the school),” Reilly said.
At the end of the program, Maza and Cabanas will submit a 30-page paper on how they came up with and managed the program, came up with a budget, and how they got the community involved. They will present their program in a state public relations competition, one of about 35 categories in which marketing students can compete. If they place in states, they will go to nationals in Salt Lake City in April.
Reilly said he thought the students have a good chance at winning.
“They’re both really bright,” he said, adding that the topic is relevant to today’s society.
Maza also felt they have a good chance of winning the competition, but that’s not what’s important.
“At the end of the day, even if Mason and I don’t win the competition, if we can help one student know where to go or have someone to talk to, that’s enough of an award,” Maza said.