Sheriff’s office focuses effort on student safety, anti-bullying campaign

Published 9:47 am Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Walk down almost any high school hallway and you’ll see signs of bullying. One kid is picking his books off of the floor, while another student points and laughs. A group of girls gossip quietly about their classmate that doesn’t dress in designer clothes, while her best friend didn’t even show up to school to avoid the same ridicule.

Instead of turning a blind eye to the problem that plagues schools across the country, the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office has developed a school safety program that is aimed at helping children recognize bullying and encourages them to speak up when they or someone they know is being bullied.

The program, created by Deputies Hank Fuller, Keith Rose and Serena White, deals with several other topics, as well, including the dangers of drugs and alcohol, texting while driving and seatbelt safety. Traveling to schools throughout the Western Tidewater region, the deputies host assemblies for youth of all ages, Pre-K through grade 12, and hand out silicone bracelets with the phrase “I’m not a BULLY” inscribed on them.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to teach the kids about what they should do if they are bullied,” said Deputy Lundy Sadler, as he handed out bracelets to children at the Courtland Head Start Center. “We want them to be comfortable telling their parents, teachers or even us if they’re experiencing being bullied.”

According to the National Education Association, bullying and violence cause 160,000 children to miss one or more days of school each month. Children who are victims of bullying, including malicious teasing, threats, physical abuse, obscene gesturing and name-calling, are more likely to experience mental health concerns, which can lead to both physical issues and/or negative social behaviors, such as headaches, stomachaches, difficulty concentrating, decline in school performance, depression, isolation and thoughts of suicide.

Studies by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show that 21.9 percent of students in Virginia are bullied on school property, higher than the national average of 19.6 percent. However, the deputies explained that not all forms of bullying occur in-person, either. In fact, that same study shows that 14.8 percent of students nationwide — 14.5 percent in Virginia — are electronically bullied each year through email, chat rooms and text messages.

“Children are the future, and we have to be able to foster relationships with them for a few reasons,” Sadler said. “We want them to see cops and understand that we’re the good guys and be comfortable around us, and so that we can help them recognize if they’re bullying someone or being bullied themselves.”