By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY — As National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month approaches, local communities are preparing to stand united against the problem by asking students to be a buddy, not a bully.
The initiative, a collaborative effort between the region's schools, police, public officials and businesses, kicks off today during an 8:45 a.m. assembly at Amesbury High School.
Similar assemblies will occur at local schools throughout the month. In addition to Amesbury, the Newburyport, Pentucket, Triton and Portsmouth, N.H., school districts are also participating in the effort, along with the police departments in the nine communities that the districts comprise.
At each assembly, school and city officials will speak to the students about bullying. Then, the students will be asked to put on wristbands that say "Be a Buddy, Not a Bully" and make a pledge to stand against bullying. The wristbands will be colored according to each school's colors. For example, Amesbury’s will be red and white.
“Bullying has been in the news and it’s gotten a lot more attention, as it should, and I thought, what could we do to help?" said Rosemary Werner of Amesbury, director of Best Foot Forward, who came up with the idea for the initiative. “So I thought that the bands are such a simple idea with a simple message.”
Werner developed the idea a few months ago after she saw a TV special on bullying. She was fascinated by how pervasive the problem is.
“A lot of famous people were bullied,” Werner said. “Bill Clinton was bullied, and after the show was over, my husband told me he’d been bullied a lot because he wore glasses.”
Werner went to Amesbury police Chief Mark Gagnon, who loved the idea, Soon, it spread to surrounding communities.
“It started out as just Amesbury and then they were kind enough to involve us,” West Newbury police Chief Lisa Holmes said. “I’m pretty excited about it because I was involved in bullying prevention for six or seven years. We went to elementary schools and did programs for the little kids, so for me, it's exciting to go back to carry on something that had started many years ago.”
Beyond the police, many local businesses have pledged their support as well. Brian Fecteau, president of Amesbury Chevrolet, has offered help creating a scholarship that will be awarded to a “hero” from each of the five Amesbury schools.
“Every year, that child who has demonstrated how to be a friend, who has taught someone or did something heroic to prevent bullying, that child will be presented with a scholarship,” Cheri Buchanan, controller at Amesbury Chevrolet, said.
The scholarship’s details are still being fine-tuned, but each winner will receive $250 and will have their names added to a plaque that will hang on the walls of each school.
“(Bullying) can really have a major effect on them. It can have a lasting effect on who that child becomes,” Buchanan said. “I think (programs like this) can make a major difference, whether it’s for the bully or the target.”
The initiative follows new laws passed by the state Legislature in 2010 that cracked down on bullying and recommended increased collaboration between school officials, police and the communities as a whole. Gagnon said the comprehensive approach is a great way to confront bullying, adding that he was happy when Werner presented the idea to him.
“In line with the theory of, "It lakes a village to raise a child,' it is our firm belief that it takes a village or community to stop bullying,” Gagnon said.
Buchanan said it was an idea that everyone at Amesbury Chevrolet was enthusiastic to support.
“We all have children, we’re all parents, so we know the importance of the program, and when she presented the idea to us we all jumped on board,” Buchanan said. “Getting the kids involved at a young age makes a difference, I think it makes a huge difference.”