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Wildwood Honor Society Students Team Up with Middle Schools to Bust Bullying

October 10, 2014

Kerstyn Larash at the bullying seminar  
Wildwood Phi Theta Kappa chapter president Kerstyn Larash facilitates a discussion about bullying with students from Selvidge Middle School and St. Bridget of Kildare School.

Middle school can be a rough time for students. It’s a time when children are trying to define themselves, and find out where they fit in. Unfortunately, “fitting in” sometimes means magnifying differences and pushing other people out.

Many of the members of St. Louis Community College-Wildwood’s honor society, Phi Theta Kappa, were just about to start middle school when Megan Meier, a 13-year-old from St. Charles, Mo., took her own life as a result of cyber-bullying.  The tragedy was covered by media nationwide, but was especially notable in the St. Louis area because it hit so close to home.

The chapter members decided to address bullying as their “College Project” – one of the leadership development and service-learning components of their membership to Phi Theta Kappa. Through the College Project, students strive to have a positive impact on their community and develop critical thinking, leadership, project planning and team-building skills.

“We picked bullying because it was something we all felt passionate about,” Kerstyn Larash, chapter president said.  “We all had seen or knew people who had been bullied and we felt it was something we could do that would make a difference. We also thought it would be a good opportunity to work closely with younger students.” 

Impact of Tina Meier's Story

As part of their project, the chapter members partnered with the Megan Meier Foundation to present information to local middle school students. Megan’s mother, Tina, founded the Megan Meier Foundation in 2007 and has presented to more than 126,000 students, parents and educators about bullying and cyberbullying.

bullying seminar  
Students from Selvidge Middle School present results
from their group discussion about bullying during the
"Bully Busters" event at STLCC-Wildwood.

On Oct. 3, students from Selvidge Middle School in Ballwin and St. Bridget of Kildare in Pacific arrived on the Wildwood campus for a day-long event, called “Bully Busters.” Tina Meier recounted Megan’s story, and discussed bullying, bystanders and cyberbulling.

She encouraged the students to speak with a trusted adult when they witness or experience any type of bullying or cyberbullying.  She also helped them to understand a broader definition of bullying and the intended and unintended consequences of it.  Her personal story was compelling and impactful.

“When I heard Megan’s story, it really made me actually think thoroughly about it and realize what bullying does,” Ainsley Virtudazo of St. Bridget’s said.

Her friend Hailey Granith agreed. “It made me realize how big the impact was, not only on Megan, but also on Megan’s family and friends.”

“One of the greatest things during that time was for the students to be able to take it to a personal level. They shared some serious things. They could relate to Megan’s story,” STLCC student Mary Loggia said.

Hailey’s mother Michele also thought hearing directly from Tina Meier was impactful. “She did all the things that I would have done as a mother. It’s scary. She was in a tough spot and it’s good to know there are other solutions. It’s going to be an interesting car ride home.”

Understanding Bullying

The students then moved into classrooms, and participated in small group discussions and games that were facilitated by the chapter members. The games were intended to help them understand different aspects of bullying – like gossip – in an engaging way.

After a pizza lunch, the students reconvened in the larger room for a table top exercise. To the surprise of the STLCC students, the middle school students decided to combine tables of students and make larger, more inclusive groups at lunch.

“It seemed that they started to practice one of the most important lessons of the day – being willing to reach out and listen to other students besides their own small group.” Larash said.

Michele Geatley, a teacher from St. Bridget’s, said that it was a bonus for her students to be able to meet students from another school.

“It’s a neat opportunity to be able to come and encounter other students from different schools,” she said. “Our school is small, and this supports what we’re teaching them – that there is nothing worth taking your life over.”

Kyle Denney, an eighth grade social studies teacher from Selvidge, explained why they thought the presentation would be valuable to their students. “We opened it up to all of the kids on Student Council. They are the big leaders of the school and we want them to take back what they learned today,” he said.

Personal Responsibility

As the final activity, that is exactly what the students did. They brainstormed in small groups to decide what they could do at their schools to bring more awareness to the problem of bullying, and then presented their ideas to the whole group. Ideas ranged from school-wide initiatives such as a bully hotline, anti-bully posters and broadcasting daily, positive messages, to things they could do as individuals, such as judging people by their personality instead of their looks, respecting differences and offering random compliments. One group suggested “free smiles”; another said that “everyone deserves a hug.”

Ultimately they realized that change depends on them. Megan Brady, a teacher from St. Bridget’s, said: “We need to empower them. It doesn’t mean as much coming from parents or teachers. They can make a bigger difference.”

And the students, realizing their personal responsibility, agreed. 

“We all need to think before we speak,” said a student from Selvidge. “We all have to be brave enough to help someone else out.”