published: Friday, March 22, 2013
Kids meet to block bullies
GREG JONES | Staff Writer
About three months ago, Jamie Munoz, 11, felt sad after discovering her sister was being bullied.
Now, when Munoz walks down the halls of Cypress Ridge Elementary, she and her close friends get thumbs up from other students after finding a way to address the problem at their school.
Last year, Munoz, whose sister attends another school, talked about the bullying problem with her best friends, Kristopher Ganesh and Marlee Ryan. They wanted to do something about it.
"I brought them in because I knew they would support me with any crazy idea I have," Munoz said. "I told them to help me out with making this become a reality. I didn't expect it to get this big. I just thought it would be just for this school. I thought we would make a program for here, but I didn't expect us to go in front of the school board."
Recently, the board recognized the three students for starting "Bully Blockers," an anti-bullying program includes "Buddy," a mailbox fashioned out of cardboard to look like a huge osprey, the school's mascot. Students can use the mailbox to deposit notes with concerns and questions related to bullying, with the more serious issues handled privately by school administrators.
Officials appear on the school's in-house television program each Friday to answer questions from the mailbox and to offer educational tips for preventing bullying. The program is not just aimed at bullies and their victims, but also students witnessing such behavior who may not want to get involved.
"We decided to do this because we wanted to help out our fellow peers," Ganesh said. "We want to help other students out, so if they are being bullied, they would have somewhere to report it in -- our bully prevention mail box."
School guidance counselor Liz Mathis said Cypress Ridge Elementary has done an anti-bullying program before, but that was initiated by teachers, not students.
"We think it is amazing that this is student lead," she said. "We are trying to take Jamie's raw emotion and worries, and turn them into positive-action steps. We can't just worry and fear, we have to be proactive because fear and worry doesn't help anyone, but positive steps can help make a change."
On May 1, the program will host Omega Man and Friends in a school assembly program. The traveling group of weightlifters and body builders break baseball bats, bend steel rods and do other feats of strength in order to deliver an anti-bullying and character-building message.
The group also will have educational materials for teachers, a coloring contest for students and other activities geared to stopping bullying.
To make the mailbox, the three students didn't turn to their parents: They did the work themselves and developed the program while meeting after school and on weekends because FCATs were approaching and time out from class was not an option.
"Academic time here is very protected, and close to FCAT, the teachers and students are practicing so much, so they didn't want to let them out of class," Mathis said. "I said, 'That's OK, we can work around that and we can meet from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. after school for one day a week. And one night over the weekend, Jamie's mother brought us supper."
Munoz, Ganesh and Ryan, who are fifth-graders, plan to take "Bully Blockers" to Cypress Ridge Middle School when they get there next year. Munoz said this is because bullying can be even more severe in middle school.
Cypress Ridge Elementary School Principal Dr. Kathy Cantwell said the "Bully Blockers" program will continue there even though the three students are moving on.
"We celebrate good things at Cypress Ridge, and these are young kids who have been together since kindergarten," she said. "They have been role models for other children. It (the program) is something we can continue to do at Cypress Ridge."