Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Schools build awareness about cyberbullying

Carmen Brandy, left, talks about being bullied during a panel discussion at John Hopkins Middle School. Also on the panel are students Deja Parham, Kiara Green, Leah Dudley and Martaysha Holmes.

LARA CERRI | Times

Carmen Brandy, left, talks about being bullied during a panel discussion at John Hopkins Middle School. Also on the panel are students Deja Parham, Kiara Green, Leah Dudley and Martaysha Holmes.

ST. PETERSBURG

Students at John Hopkins Middle School found ways to address their fears about bullying at a panel discussion Tuesday, one of a number of events marking Cyberbullying Awareness Week.

"They told us not to just ignore it and sometimes you should tell someone," said Brianna Walker, a seventh-grader at the school who picked up on the week's theme, "Stop. Block. Tell."

Experts on cyberbullying urge teens to immediately stop a bullying conversation on their cellphones or computers, block the bully from sending more messages and tell a trusted adult about the problem.

Among U.S. teens who use the Internet, instances of cyberbullying increased from 6 percent in 2000 to 11 percent in 2010, according to the Youth Internet Safety Survey.

Gulf Coast Giving, a nonprofit group that promotes volunteer work, organized the week of awareness activities at a number of schools. The discussion at John Hopkins was sponsored by Verizon Wireless.

The panel included Carmen Brandy, a victim of bullying and aspiring country singer; Detective Jerry Luttmann, school resource officer for Safety Harbor Middle School; Donna Faye Witsell, advocate and mother of a bullying victim; and four teen panelists.

Carmen, 15, spoke of the taunting she faced at a private middle school while living in Safety Harbor. A friendship with another girl led to miscommunication, then taunting.

"It was a really small private school, so you'd have a total of maybe 10 girls in your class," Carmen said in an interview. "I wasn't even too familiar with the things that they were calling me."

The taunting became so bad she attempted suicide, cutting herself. Carmen left the school and healed with help from therapy and her music. Before the panel discussion, she strummed an acoustic guitar, singing lyrics that echoed her painful past.

"She was open about the situation and wasn't afraid to say how she felt," said Martaysha Holmes, a John Hopkins seventh-grader.

Luttmann, stationed at Safety Harbor Middle School, said he is in constant communication with children and parents regarding cyberbullying. He emphasized to students that telling an adult, a parent or teacher, was the best solution.

Safety Harbor students come forward to talk about inappropriate pictures on social media such as Facebook and Instagram, he said. They often discuss bullying or a troubled household.

"Some come in the office, even about abuse, and talk about that," Luttman said. "It's very beneficial to see students come in and actually talk to you and actually like you."

Luttmann frequently gives talks on bullying awareness. His PowerPoint presentation takes listeners from the beginning of the bullying act to the potential for it to lead to suicide. School resource officers in Pinellas have been encouraged to spread his message.

For years, Florida law has allowed schools to crack down on bullying and harassment that occurs on school property or uses school equipment. That changed this year with a new state law that allows school officials to enforce the same rules off campus when cyberbullying attacks affect a school.

The Pinellas County School Board changed its bullying and harassment policy on Sept. 10 to comply with the law. The policy now reads that schools may intervene, even off campus, if bullying "substantially disrupts the education process or orderly operation of a school."

Hope Witsell was 13 years old when she took her life in 2009. The Ruskin teen sent a nude photo to a boy at Beth Shields Middle School, which circulated to nearby schools. Students tormented her with verbal abuse.

"There are no boundaries. It affects everyone, everywhere," her mother, Donna Witsell, said. "There is no reason in this world why a child should be pushed to a point where they have these extreme, extreme hurtful feelings."

Witsell fights "bullycide," a term used to address suicide caused by peer abuse. She began an advocacy group, Warriors for Hope Outreach Ministry.

Luttmann tells students to take down inappropriate posts on the Internet and call their parents from his office.

"As long as you explain and educate children, they understand it," Luttmann said. "They're kids. We all understand that. But at the same time, they're old enough to understand right and wrong."

Schools build awareness about cyberbullying 09/27/13 [Last modified: Friday, September 27, 2013 4:11pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Controversial landfill site could be rechristened as industrial recruiting land in Pasco

    Economic Development

    The east Pasco property of Angelo's Aggregate Materials, which failed to obtain a state environmental permit to be developed as a garbage landfill, is being studied as a potential 1,000-acre mega site for industrial recruitment.

  2. Joe Henderson: At son's wedding, memories of child-rearing build to a perfect moment

    Columns

    On a secluded beach known as Hawksnest on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, a bride-to-be named Heather McNeill hurried along a wooded path to meet the man she was about to marry.

    Heather McNeill married fellow Strawberry Crest High teacher Ben Henderson on a secluded beach in the U.S. Virgin Islands. "They wanted something totally theirs," says Ben's dad Joe Henderson. "I think they had their parents in mind, as well." [Courtesy of Henderson family]
  3. Forecast: Near record-high temperatures, minimal rain in store for Tampa Bay

    Weather

    Tampa Bay residents can expect a significantly hot Wednesday — possibly record-breaking — and a small chance of pop up showers.

    Tampa Bay's 7 day forecast. [WTSP]
  4. Marriott opening new hotel on Clearwater Beach

    Tourism

    CLEARWATER BEACH — A dual-branded Marriott hotel with a tongue-twister name is opening on Clearwater Beach in August. The Residence Inn Tampa Clearwater Beach and SpringHill Suites Tampa Clearwater Beach will have 255 suites total, connected by a lobby.

    A dual-branded Marriott hotel called the Residence Inn Tampa Clearwater Beach and SpringHill Suites Tampa Clearwater Beach will open in August in Clearwater Beach. Pictured is a rendering.
[Courtesy of Hayworth PR]
  5. AARP study explores the role 50-plus moviegoers play at the box office

    Life Times

    A new study shows that seniors have a much larger impact on the success — or failure — of a film than previously realized, even films that might seem aimed at a much younger audience.

    According to the study, more than 30 percent of all cinema visits were made by 50-plus adults.