SHERBURN - It's tough enough to fit in during high school without a bully making life miserable.
Unfortunately, bullying today goes beyond stealing lunch money. Given cell phones and Facebook, it's easier to be a bully, and to be much more vicious.
Nationwide, teen and young adult suicides have made headlines because of bullying. Those stories were shown during a student group's push for an anti-bullying pledge Wednesday at Martin County West.
NO?BULLYING?— Martin County West High School students Eric Reisdorfer, from left, Patience Poyzer, Allen Thompson and Cody Allen Leschefske collect names from fellow students as they sign the pledge to not bully their classmates Wednesday in Sherburn.
"While they're standing in line for lunch, they have a chance to see this Power Point," explained Beth Haskins, an instructor for the Safe Boundaries group at Martin County West. "Bullying is so prevalent, so we focused on the suicides as a result of bullying"
Safe Boundaries is in the pilot stage at Martin County West. Haskins, along with Billie Gatton, both of Community Options and Resources, oversee the initiative. The success seen with students in the pilot program may help get it implemented for the entire student body.
"The Safe Boundaries is human development and sexuality educational programs for individuals with developmental disabilities," Haskins explained. "Most of it deals with social behaviors and self-esteem. It was designed for people with developmental disabilities, to help them protect themselves from abuse, and have respect for themselves."
From the pilot program, students involved have already shown great progress.
"We're definitely seeing more self-confidence, more maturing," said Christine Hall, a staff member at Martin County West who works with students in the program.
"I've become stronger, I try to help people who are bullied, and I have helped two people," said Brittany DeVary, a senior at Martin County West. "They went and told somebody about it."
DeVary added she never would have had the courage to step in before the Safe Boundaries class.
During lunch hours Wednesday, the group had an anti-bullying pledge posted for students and staff to sign.
"This is something we want to see, the adults role-modeling the behavior for students," Haskins said.
The program has been used for years in Community Options and Resources. Haskins and Gatton approached the school to try "Safe Boundaries"
"I felt there was a need for the students who are now participating," said Kia Ringnell, a Martin County West staff member who helped approve the program. "We need the awareness that this happens, even in our school. This is good to have this one step forward in stopping bullying."
Meanwhile students not only learn the right ways to deal with bullying - ignoring the bullies, telling them to stop, telling an authority and standing up for others who are bullied - they are also learning qualities like self-respect, confidence and kindness.
"I'm nervous, but happy," said freshman J.D. Harberts about presenting the pledge to his peers.
But he also thought it might be easier next time, since he "will have done it before."
"It's a really good program," added junior Eric Reisdorfer. "I recommend it to kids who want to feel better about themselves."