'Say Something' urges student awareness

Karen Bird, left, and Zoe Nicholl talk to Burnet Middle School seventh graders Monday morning, Oct. 16, during assembly about being alert to warning signs, signals and threats of school violence as part of 'Say Something' week.

By Lew K. Cohn

Managing Editor

Burnet Bulletin

Working on the belief every act of violence is preventable, Burnet Middle School Interact students taught their peers to “Say Something” Monday morning during assemblies at the school auditorium.

All week long, during homeroom, BMS students will learn strategies for speaking up if they see warning signs of impending violence or if they feel a student may harm himself or herself or others as part of “Say Something,” a program sponsored by the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation.

Under the tutelage of their sponsor, Sara Te, Interact students Katie Bird, Madi Stires, Mady Jones, Kylie Butcher and Zoe Nicholl showed videos to seventh graders Monday morning and led discussions about when it is appropriate to “Say Something.”

According to Sandy Hook Promise Foundation — organized after the Dec. 14, 2012, deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut — each year there are 2 million acts of violence committed in school and 2,000 students commit suicide. More than 1 million threats are made against schools in the United States every year.

Stires read aloud some sobering statistics. Last year, 749,000 students were victims of violence, while 876 students were afraid of attack or harm at school and 250,000 students seriously considered attempting suicide.

Stires told students there are usually warning signs, including posts, tweets and texts from students before violence occurs.

“You can save lives if you say something,” Stires said, telling students to look for warning signs, act immediately and say something to a trusted adult — a teacher, principal, staff member, police officer or parent.

Bird explained warning signs can include “thoughts, feelings and behaviors that indicate significant change and that an individual may be in need of help.”

Warning signs could include withdrawal from others, bullying or hitting, negative role models, excessive anger, impulsive intimidating, extreme mood changes, thoughts or plans of harming self or others, blaming others for one's own failures, fear of riding the bus or going to school, unwillingness to forgive or forget the wrongs of others, significant personality changes, excessive feelings of isolation or rejection and dramatic changes in physical appearances.

Meanwhile, warning “signals” are gestures or actions that transmit information which can be either overt or vague in nature. Warning signals could include giving away possessions, fascination with suicide, rigid beliefs or ideologies, bragging about access to guns, fascination with weapons or school shootings, fascination and/or writings and drawings of death, recruiting friends to join in an attack, warning friends to stay away from school or an event or bragging about an upcoming attack.

Nicholl said social media is a primary source of signs, signals and threats, followed by hallways, lunchrooms and classrooms. Most mass shootings are planned for six or more months and 70 percent of suicides give off warning signs prior to trying to commit the act, she said.

Jones said while school are “meant to be safe, they are not immune to violence, suicide and threats.” She said students should act immediately when they “see, hear or read a warning sign, signal or threat.” Jones also made sure students knew they should not fear being labeled “a snitch or traitor” by telling someone of an imminent threat of violence. She explained the difference between “saying something,” which is done with a motive of being protective, versus “telling on someone,” which is usually done with the motive of getting someone in trouble.

Butcher told students they are “the eyes and ears of the school and you see things parents and teachers dont see.”

All of the girls then got their peers to pledge to say something to a trusted adult if they witness any warning signs, signals or threats. They noted that BMS teachers will have signs indicating they are willing to be trusted adults that will listen to students' concerns when they believe there is a possibility of violence.

After the assembly, Stires said she has been putting to use some of the skills she has learned through “Say Something.”

“I've seen people crying at pep rallies and I've gone up to them and said, 'What's wrong?'” Stires said. “I talk to them the next day and we become friends for the next four years of our lives.”

“I feel like the kids who get left out most of the time feel like that — the kids who get bullied,” Butcher added. “They are always sitting alone and we should try to fix that by helping them.”

Stires said she and Nicholl not only befriended a boy who was being bullied by another of their peers, but also spoke up to the tormentor and got the bullying to stop.

“(The victim's) mom was telling me a lot of people call him names and he gets treated badly and he tries not to let it get to him, but there was one kid who he said calls him names and it really gets to him,” Stires said. “Zoe and I went and talked to (the bully) to tell him to stop. He did and now they're both doing good. Not only did it make (the victim) feel better, but I made a new friend and now we are like best friends.”

“I think a lot of what they have taken from Start with Hello last year has fed into Say Something, because they are using both things together,” Te said. “They are reaching out to people who seem isolated and putting it together with Say Something, with the end result that we can hopefully prevent something tragic from happening at our school.”

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