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Rock Hill middle school reports antibullying efforts appear to be working

According to CDC research, youth who report both being bullied and bullying others have the highest rates of negative mental health outcomes.

ROCK HILL, S.C. — If you saw a sea of orange while passing schools across the Carolinas Wednesday, it's because students and staff were taking a stand against bullying as part of Unity Day. Staff at Rawlinson Road Middle School said they've been doing antibullying efforts all October for National Bullying Prevention Month, and they believe it's working.

"There's a lot of orange today which I am super proud of," Rawlinson Road Middle School principal Heather Andrus said. 

Andrus said bullying doesn’t just happen at school anymore, but follows kids from the moment they wake up to when they go to sleep.

"Social media has changed the whole scope of bullying," Jennie Morris, an instructional coach at the school, said.

Morris said that can be particularly hard for students to cope with during the pandemic. 

"Some of our 6th graders haven’t literally been in school since the 4th grade so they're coming together now and having new social connections and groups, and that can be really hard,” Morris said.

Andrus said she doesn’t believe a lot of students even know what bullying is.

“Some people do feel like you're bullying them when you're doing the joking around, the roasting as the kids call it, so just educating them is the most important thing," Andrus said.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, middle schoolers seem to have it worse --- 6th, 7th, and 8th graders reporting higher rates of bullying than students in high school.

At Rawlinson Road Middle, the kids didn’t just wear orange, though. Students signed pledges saying they are against bullying, they want everyone to feel safe, and that they're not alone. Morris said say they were happily surprised at just how responsive the kids were.

“Some of them have even signed our paper, which I didn’t ask them to do that,” Morris said, holding up an anti-bullying sign.

They also created white flags for kids to wear.

“The white color represents kindness and peace," 6th grader Lyla Seibert said.

Seibert helped organize the anti-bullying efforts and said she believes they're working.

“We’ve had a lot less bullying than there was at the beginning of school, I think people are starting to realize more what bullying is,” Seibert said.

Siebert said it was encouraging to see just how many students decided to participate.

“It made me feel really good, like what we're doing is actually mattering and people are really taking part," Seibert said.

Morris said if kids do feel like they're being bullied, it's important for the adults in their lives to take them seriously.

“In my day, my mom or dad would say shake it off, sticks and stones may break your bones and words will never hurt you," Morris said. "But words do hurt, and this generation more than ever."

According to CDC research, youth who report both being bullied and bullying others have the highest rates of negative mental health outcomes, including depression, anxiety, and thinking about suicide

“I want them to be successful members of society, but also just in general if they feel safe and secure on campus, the academics come next," Andrus said.

Contact Lana Harris at lharris@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and on Instagram.