New program helps kids cope with bullying and other dangers of childhood

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In September, Fort Worth ISD began promoting a new program that aims at keeping local students safe.

"It’s Not Okay!" is the slogan for the new campaign for FWISD that focuses on behaviors that can place students at risk and gives them ways to get out of trouble they may be experiencing – bullying, cyberbullying, suicide, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, dating violence, gangs, sexting and sexual harassment.

The campaign will feature one topic each month. September was bullying and October is substance abuse.

Now the program is in full swing and is beginning to garner national attention thanks to Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, whose District 9 includes Bluebonnet Hills in the 109.

During the city council meeting Oct. 12, Burns used his announcement time to share stories about students across the country who committed suicide because of harassment and bullying.

"Teen bullying and suicide has become an epidemic in this country, especially among gay and lesbian youth, those perceived to be gay or kids who are just different," Burns said during the meeting. "This bullying and harassment in our schools must stop and our schools must be a safe place to learn and to grow."

Burns, who is gay, shared his story about the problems he faced growing up. His speech, now called "It Gets Better" online, has been viewed more than 2.2 million times.

"It is never acceptable for us to make any child feel unloved or worthless and I am committed to be apart of that conversation," Burns said.
Rene Moore, FWISD guidance & counseling department coordinator, fully supports Burns.

"It takes a lot of courage to share personal information," Moore said. "Because of his willingness to share his story, hopefully it will impact students that are at high risk. Students that have characteristics that are different from others can set them apart."

Vicki Warren, the director of intervention services for FWISD, has been working hard to make the program successful for all students in the district.
"We are trying to change the culture in our schools," Warren said. "We hope that we educate our students about these behaviors and help them know the consequences of their actions."

One PTA organization for an elementary school in the 109 is attempting to promote safety for students and help their behavior.

Parents On the Playground (POPS) is an organization at Tanglewood Elementary that helps teachers keep an eye on students.

"We find parents for everyday for kindergarten and first grade," said POPS chairman Melissa Hyates. "We have two to six parents every day at the school who assist with everything from opening kids’ lunches, helping the teachers monitor the kids and make sure they are behaving correctly."

There are 185 parents and grandparents enrolled in program, Hyates said. These adults combined to put in more than 11,000 volunteer hours last year on the lookout for students misbehaving, including bullying.

"I think there may be a few kids at Tanglewood that are bullying, but usually it is dealt with pretty quickly," Hyates said. "At our school there is heavy parent involvement so there are always eyes and ears everywhere which makes it a great fit at our school."

Billboards across town are promoting the campaign and providing more information to parents and students.

"We also have posters that were created by students at Southwest High School that focus on the topic of the month that are displayed in the schools," Warren said.

"We also have some information on the topics that are being relayed to the students from the teachers."

This campaign originated in April and has spread through the secondary schools in the district.

"There wasn’t one real event that led to the creation of the campaign," Warren said. "We are just trying to get the message out to our students and this might be a way to reformulate that message that might be better approached by our students. We tried a lot of different efforts but we wanted to think of a new way to look at this."

Moore hopes that this program helps not only FWISD students, but also youths around the country.

"We want to get adults to start talking with kids, kids talking with each other and being more respectful to each other," Moore said. "With our website, people are able to go there and get things they can use in a classroom."

The program is also working closely with Safe City Commission Campus Crimestoppers to try and prevent issues before they become a problem.

"If I had a friend that was in a violent relationship, I could call the hotline, anonymously, and the Crime Stoppers would work with the school to help my friend get out of that violent relationship and address their problems," Warren said. "We heard from our students that some of them have had issues with their friends, but didn’t know what to do."

The crime stoppers hotline is 817-469-8477.

"We have been partnering with the Safe City Commission, which oversees Crime Stoppers," Moore said. "We provide friends a lifeline so kids can call, text or e-mail if they are having problems or someone they see is getting bullied."
 

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