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About 1,000 elementary students dressed in bright orange t-shirts sat in the playground of Santa Monica Boulevard Community Charter School (SMBCCS) on Wednesday to celebrate “Unity Day,” a day against bullying.
“October is anti-bullying month,” said Monica Harmon, founder of Speak Out Against Bullying, which partnered with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and the Chuck E. Cheese Anti-Bullying Campaign to arrange the event. “I started the organization three years ago because there’s a need. Today is a day to show everyone that we stand against this terrible phenomenon…We have all components here, law enforcement, students, teachers, parents and the community.”
The excited children yelled back when Harmon prompted them to repeat the pledge: “I pledge to help stop bullying. I am a strong student. I pledge to treat others with respect. I refuse to bully others.”
Harmon was joined by speakers from the LAPD and Los Angeles Fire Department, school director Dr. David Riddick, and Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, 13th district.
“I think it’s terrific,” O’Farrell said about the event. “I also think the results of these prevention messages can’t be quantified, so with this event and others we can provide reminders that bullying doesn’t just mean harm to a victim, it also pushes a bully toward a diminished life, which is also tragic.”
Students went wild when Harmon introduced the guest of honor, Chuck E. Cheese, who is the first sponsor of Cartoon Network’s Stop Bullying: Speak Up campaign. The program incentivizes kids to sign an anti-bullying pledge by offering 50 free tickets, which they can trade in for prizes at any Chuck E. Cheese location.
“It’s important to create incentives to work together for restorative justice,” said Cary Rabinowitz, administrative director for SMBCCS. “It’s also great we have technology that can talk to kids about bullying and move them to stand against it.”
Bullying is not just a problem among junior high and high school students. “That’s a myth, Harmon said. “It starts as young as Kindergarten. If we don’t clamp down on it now, it will fester and get worse as kids get older.”
The LAPD plans to continue their anti-bullying efforts. LAPD officers will team up with arts education provider, P.S. ARTS, to address students at Bret Harte Preparatory Middle School on Hoover Street on Nov. 4. P.S. ARTS launched a pilot program at Bret Harte specifically to demonstrate to leaders in police departments and juvenile justice systems the efficacy of innovative, arts-based diversion programs for at-risk youth.
In 2014, one in three California middle school and high school students reported having been harassed or bullied at least once, according to the California Department of Education. The percentage nationally however is decreasing, according to the National Association of School Psychologists, a trend everyone at the SMBCCS event would like to see continue.
“Anyone among us can become a bully,” O’Farrell said, “People of any age. Bullying takes on many forms. Some people use their intelligence to bully others. Some use technology. Events like these promote what we all want for our young people, a life of tolerance, compassion and understanding.”
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