Bully for them: Mean streak prompts action from Park High School seniors
Park High School seniors who helped organize an anti-bullying campaign said they hope that other students will carry on their message after they themselves graduate this spring.
Temi Ogunrinde, 18, of Cottage Grove, and Mikayla Jones, 17, of St. Paul Park, started the program with classmate Sydney Lamberty.
Last month they organized Anti-Bullying Week, when students were encouraged to wear orange clothing and place an orange handprint on a banner that read, “I pledge to stand up to bullying.”
They also produced videos that aired on the Park News Network and opened a Twitter account, @PHSAntiBullying, to provide a forum for students to discuss the causes and consequences of bullying.
The Twitter account has at least 180 followers. One follower, who identified herself as Athena, tweeted, “The way I see it, it doesn’t matter if #PHSAntiBullying actually stops bullying. It’s getting you to think about it…”
While they’re gratified that they’ve raised awareness, Ogunrinde and Jones said it will will be up to students to remain vigilant against bullying, whether online or in the halls.
“We’re going to be gone in two months,” Ogunrinde said. “We hope other students will lead. The next step is, do you say something if you see (bullying)?”
Their initiative was a pushback against cyberbullying that was conducted through at least two Twitter accounts whose users engaged in rumor mongering and name-calling. Targets of the tweets included at least one gay student, Jones said. Other tweets assailed some female students as sluts.
“They would pick out random people and attack them and say generally bad things about the school,” Ogunrinde said.
They also saw instances of physical bullying.
Fed up, the trio met with Park Principal Kerry Timmerman. He arranged a meeting with the Culture Committee, a group of teachers and staff. The result was the Park Anti-Bullying Week.
“They approached me with it and obviously I think it was great idea,” Timmerman said. “All in all, I’m very proud of how our students handled that, particularly the leadership those three girls showed in heading the effort.”
State lawmakers are nearing passage of the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act, a bill that seeks to expand Minnesota’s current anti-bullying law, which proponents said is among the weakest in the nation. The bill has undergone revisions, but opponents said the state government is overstepping its bounds.
A study published last month in the American Sociological Review claimed that popular high school kids aren’t immune from bullying. Socially upwardly mobile students increased their chances of being bullied since their status made them more visible, the report said.
While that sometimes happens at Park, Ogunrinde and Jones said they started the anti-bullying campaign for the students on the margins.
“It was more seeing kids out there, kids who were being picked on didn’t have a voice in the school,” Jones said.
“It’s the quiet kids you never hear about,” Ogunrinde said. “It’s for them.”