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Park High School students work to raise awareness about cyberbullying

Dalton Koontz, Air Force Junior ROTC cadet, stands beside a poster the ROTC unit put up in the front hall of Park High School. They asked students to ink their thumbs and mark on the poster pledging not to engage in cyberbullying. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner

Park High School Air Force Junior ROTC cadets were very vocal on Monday and Tuesday of last week when they asked students to take a pledge to not engage in cyberbullying.

On Wednesday, however, they went silent.

To draw attention to the issue, Junior ROTC members didn't talk for a day. Nor did they text or use their cellphones.

In the military, it's called a "COMM OUT," said Kathy Roby, a Park aerospace instructor and retired chief master sergeant.

Although being silent for a day was not part of their campaign, students who are members of Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) worked with the cadets by calling attention to the problem of teen suicide.

Cyberbullying contributes to teens thinking about suicide and can also be the primary reason some young people take their own lives, students said.

"I got involved because members of my family have had issues with depression," said Bri Peschke.

Marina Domingez joined SADD and offered to sit at the hall table and talk to students because she wants them to know there are other options if someone is considering suicide.

Before Wednesday's day of silence, ROTC cadets urged students to get information about suicide prevention and pledge not to engage in cyberbullying by putting purple thumbprints on a poster.

When researching projects the corp would get involved in, cadets were very surprised at the number of cyberbullying incidents.

More than a million kids were cyberbullied last year, according to Rebekkah Lennartson, cadet. "More than 17 percent of them committed suicide," she said. "It's an epidemic and no one talks about it. The scale of it shocked me."

It's hard to convey meaning, such as sarcasm in an email, said Dalton Koontz, cadet. "Typed words have a greater impact," he said.

Some students told cadets that cyberbullying can be stopped by blocking people on Facebook.

But there are other electronic ways to get to people, cadets argued, such as phones and regular email.

Koontz and Lennartson said they had been bullied and Lennartson was cyberbullied online. School officials helped her get it resolved, she said.

A lot of cadets deal with bullying incidents, said retired Lt. Col. Larry Brockshus, head aerospace instructor.

They're made fun of because they wear uniforms and with the boys have short haircuts.

"Some people are really sensitive to that," he said.

Those students who are troubled by cyberbullying should tell a teacher or trusted adult, said Lennartson and Koontz.

"You can have 50 kids on your side and it won't matter as much as having an adult intervene," Koontz said.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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