Rigby students work together to eliminate bullying culture

An assembly in Rigby comes a year after one classmate gathered weapons.

(IDAHO FALLS) POST REGISTERMarch 2, 2014 

Rigby Middle School eighth-graders do a cheer before the start of an anti-bullying assembly. The students organized the assembly to raise awareness about the problem and encourage other students in the school to “stand up and speak out” when they witness bullying.

MONTE LAORANGE — mlaorange@postregister.com

  • WHAT IS BULLYING?

    According to stopbullying.gov, bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both children who are bullied and those who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.

    In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:

    - An imbalance of power: Children who bully use their power — such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information or popularity — to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.

    - Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.

RIGBY — Olivia Rasmussen got up on the stage in front of 400 Rigby Middle School classmates and told them years of bullying led to her attempted suicide.

“Sometimes we let words get to us and ruin our lives," the eighth-grader said.

Olivia was one of several students who shared stories as part of a student-organized anti-bullying assembly dubbed “Uprising.” Eighty-two students involved in leadership and speech classes worked since early January, hoping to change the culture in their school.

“I’ve seen a lot of friends be bullied. I want to make a huge impact on the school,” said Ernesto Lozano, 14, who helped organize the assembly.

Eighth-grader Dalton Monroe said he’s ready to help. He was a bully who, in fifth grade, became a victim of bullying.

“I would target (a kid’s) weaknesses and smallest flaws and beat them down until they felt like nothing,” he said.

Now, he said, “I want to turn it around and be the school known for stopping bullying.”

Pam and Todd Gunter, the parents of a boy who made a so-called kill list almost a year ago, said one of the biggest issues at Rigby is how teachers define bullying. They believe their son’s actions were spurred by multiple bullying incidents during a 10-day period — some of which, they said, happened in the classroom in front of teachers.

But the Jefferson School District board decided no bullying took place, the Gunters said. The school board expelled the Gunters’ son last March.

Superintendent Ron Tolman said confidentiality requirements mean he can’t comment. Rigby Middle School Principal Sherry Simmons said the district does its best to curb bullying. She said she could not talk about specific cases, but she did say the school’s goal is to react swiftly when it sees bulling. Sometimes, she said, students blow situations out of proportion.

“Bullying is a word that’s thrown around a lot now,” she said. “Often it’s a friend or a former friend and they are saying mean things to each other. Everything is kind of transformed now, where kids think everything is bullying when someone is mean to them, but sometimes people are mean to each other and it’s not bullying.”

Olivia Rasmussen said fellow students often downplay bullying. She wanted to tell her story to stress the effects of bullying. Until the assembly, Olivia said, only her close friends were aware of her struggles. She was nervous to stand in front of her classmates and be honest, but said she believed it was worth it.

The worst-case scenario occurred in Pocatello last month, when a 15-year-old Pocatello High School student killed herself after reportedly being bullied because she was a lesbian.

“Someone shouldn’t have to take their own life for people to notice,” Olivia said.

Rigby counselor Kim Azbill, involved with the “Uprising” assembly, said kids’ talking to other kids makes the most difference.

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