Lenoir County Public Schools and the regional mental health agency Eastpointe will push back against bullying with the help of some 80 middle school students during the school district’s first-ever Bullying Summit on Saturday at E.B. Frink Middle School in La Grange.
In preliminary discussions, students from Frink and Rochelle Middle School in Kinston provided summit organizers with information about bullying in their schools: its prevalence, what forms it takes, where it happens and how they can report it.
Those insights have helped shape the content of the summit, to be led by facilitators from Leading to Change, a national leadership training agency that has partnered with Eastpointe previously for bullying summits in other counties.
“The day is very hands-on, a lot of group activities to keep the students engaged,” Courtney Boyette, community relations specialist for Eastpointe, said. “Leading to Change is going to take the information we get together and almost take a plan back into the schools. The kids who are going to still be here can continue to carry that information back.”
Ideally, the summit will serve to enlighten both students and school administrators. LCPS has policies and procedures aimed at preventing, investigating and dealing with instances of bullying; but the summit will give school leaders feedback on the effectiveness of their efforts from a sizeable and varied group of students.
Because they will be talking to each other about bullying, students likely won’t view the conversations in the abstract. “When they’re in these groups, when they start to understand what bullying really is, they’re going to learn something about themselves,” Frink principal Elizabeth Pierce said.
“They will learn skills about what bullying really is, how to report bullying, what to do when other people are being bullied, how not to be a bully yourself. They can take that back with them into the school and it carries on through high school, too,” she said.
Boyette calls middle school “the prevention age” when it comes to bullying. Frink school counselor April Daw sees sixth, seventh and eighth grade students “trying to find out who they are right now.”
In terms of behavior, they could go either way, according to Pierce. “They are on the fence. They are deciding,” she said. “They are trying not to do the wrong thing but in some cases that’s all they know. They’ve never been taught any other way. Even students from good homes will still test the waters.”
Organizers hope the bullying summit can tip the scale in the right direction. “Our purpose is to reduce bullying in the school system,” Boyette said. “We want to get to the middle school kids to make an impact before they go to high school.”
The Bullying Summit begins at 10 a.m. Saturday in the gymnasium at Frink Middle School.