'Dude, Be Nice': A.G. students combat bullying with education

Danny Ramirez, an eighth-grader at Paulding Middle School in Arroyo Grande, participated in the Dude, Be Nice anti-bullying project.
Danny Ramirez, an eighth-grader at Paulding Middle School in Arroyo Grande, participated in the Dude, Be Nice anti-bullying project. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Danny Ramirez, an eighth-grader at Paulding Middle School in Arroyo Grande, sported a bright orange T-shirt that said “Dude, Be Nice,” followed by several more words, such as happy, different, kind, cool, unique and honest. He was participating in the Dude, Be Nice anti-bullying project showcased in the school library last week.

Danny, 13, is one of the students nominated by teachers for the club.

“I felt like it was a big commitment, something I could help out with,” said Danny, who lives in Nipomo. “I’ve seen bullying, I’ve been bullied. I just wanted to see what I could do.”

During October, which is National Bullying Prevention Month, club members went around campus as “undercover” agents, looking for students doing positive behaviors. If they found a student helping with homework, giving a hug, making nice comments or sharing food, for example, they gave the student an orange bracelet that said, “Orange you glad you’re nice.”

Then the student would be mentioned by first name over the speaker system as having done the nice deed.

Danny explained that club members had a choice of three projects: write a newsletter, produce a video or create a website. He wrote a newsletter.

Principal Chuck Fiorentino said that last year teachers were looking for a Project Based Learning unit that works on a real-life problem. They formed a school club to try to promote positive things kids were doing. This year they expanded it.

A kickoff assembly in early October featured county Sheriff’s Deputy Glenn Holzer, a school resource officer, and the reading of personal essays about bullying and violence.

“We’re here to stimulate thinking regardless of the discipline,” said Cade Newman, a language arts teacher. “If we were ... to tell them exactly what to do, we would never know what they were capable of.”

Added teacher Jessie Fahey, “When we give them a topic they’re interested in, they take the writing to a whole new level.”

Students read novels that led into the themes of persecution, violence, gangs and prejudice, including "The Outsiders" by S. E. Hinton.

They read nonfiction, such as a New York Times editorial “Defining Bullying Down,” published in March.

Fahey said students typically don’t learn about conflict and how to handle it, so this project zeroed in on that important life skill.

Makenna Stever, 13, designed a website.

“People don’t know the real definition of bullying,” she said. “People are so quick to cry ‘bully’ — mean acts and names are not really bullying, and it’s much easier to stand up to them.”

Makenna had Google's definition of "bully" at the top of her website: use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ anti-bullying program has a broader definition to help children and parents understand the issue. The federal agency defines three types of bullying: verbal bullying, which is saying or writing mean things; social bullying, which involves hurting someone’s reputation or relationships; and physical bullying.

As the Dude, Be Nice! Undercover Squad mission statement says: How can we, as young adults, teach others the impact of our words and the power of positivity, so that we can learn to understand and accept each other’s differences?

At Paulding Middle School, students and teachers have explored many ways of resolving issues of bullying and the results show success. Suspensions have been cut in half and referrals for bullying and violence are down.