Ithaca students use social media for anti-bullying initiative

The Ithaca City School District is working with students to develop a peer-based program using social media to combat bullying in district schools this semester.

The initiative, titled “Project Kindness,” is primarily the work of students. Superintendent of the district Luvelle Brown asked teachers and administrators to nominate students to a Student Advisory Council. The group of 27 middle and high school students assisted him in generating ideas for the project, which will rely heavily on Twitter and similar platforms.

“This year, the group decided to focus on efforts to support the implementation of the New York State Dignity for All Students Act,” Brown said. “DASA promotes anti-bullying efforts. Project Kindness is not in response to any incident or negative perceptions. Students simply wish to promote kindness and a happy atmosphere.”

According to the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, 16 percent of high school students reported that they were bullied online in the past year. However, according to stopbullying.gov, a website managed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, rapidly changing social media platforms and trends make tracking cyberbullying particularly difficult.

Hope Alridge, a junior at Lehman Alternative Community School and a member of the Student Advisory Council, said that bullying is a problem in the district.

“I have been bullied,” Alridge said. “Bullying occurs everywhere, but I was bullied in every school that I have attended.”

Samuel Barley, an eighth grader at Dewitt Middle School and another member of the council, said that the idea for Project Kindness came out of a meeting in which the student council members brainstormed ways to improve the district.

“We had a long conversation about our past experiences with it [bullying], what we’ve noticed, and how to change it,” Barley said.

The council split up into three groups to tackle different portions of the program: one for social media, one for marketing and one that worked with a school social worker to brainstorm ways to help bullying victims. Between the three groups, the council came up with a number of ideas, and one in particular that they envision as the center of the project.

“We’d make Twitter pages and Instagram accounts and blogs so people can send in questions they had and we would answer them anonymously from what we’ve been through,” Barley said.

Barley said bullying, particularly cyberbullying, is a problem that needs attention. He said websites such as Ask.fm, where users can post anonymous comments and questions to other users, are common starting points for bullying.

Alridge said she remembers a specific incident in which a boy at school called her cruel names on a regular basis, and nobody did anything to help her.

“Teachers did nothing about it at the time,” Alridge said. “I was very disappointed.”

Both Barley and Alridge said they believe Project Kindness has potential and enjoy being a part of the development team.

Russell Maines has three children who attend South Hill Elementary School. He said he dreads the day when his kids ask if they can get a Facebook.

“At some point as a parent, you have to let go and you have to realize that you’re not going to catch everything [your kids] do behind your backs,” Maines said. “They’re going to go out on their own at some point. So the idea is to teach them the rules. Even the adults haven’t figured out the rules yet with social media. It’s a problem.”

Maines is a supporter of programs like Project Kindness, but said that parents also have a role in protecting their children.

“I think that the anti-bullying initiatives are important and it’s good that they bring public attention to it,” Maines said. “But the real progress needs to be made on an individual level between children and their parents.”

Barley said the council plans to feature Project Kindness on Ithaca High School’s television broadcasts as a way to spread their message throughout the district.

And although he doesn’t yet know when Project Kindness will be fully implemented, Barley said the council has already been using the hashtag #ProjectKindess to spread the word.

Additional reporting was contributed by John Brunett.

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