By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY — During an assemblyyesterday morning, Amesbury High Schoolstudents raised their arms in
unison, pledging to “be a buddy, not a bully” as they go forward in their high school careers.
The assembly marked the kickoff of the “Be a Buddy, Not a Bully” campaign, which will coincide with National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month and aims to raise awareness of the issue within the school system and the community. Similar assemblies will be held at other schools in the region throughout October.
Peter Hoyt of the School Committee served as master of ceremonies and began the proceedings by reminding the students of their responsibility in fostering a healthy schoo
“Every day when you come in, you have a choice to make about safety, about acceptance, about tolerance and peace in your school,” Hoyt said. “You also have an opportunity to recognize the power of your voice, people look to you to set an example.”
The “Be a Buddy, Not a Bully” initiative is a collaborative effort between local schools, police, publ
ic officials and businesses throughout the region. At each assembly, students will be asked to stand against bullying in their schools. , and they will be given a wristband to symbolize that pledge. Each wristband says “Be a Buddy, Not a Bully,” and will be colored according to each school’s colors.
The initiative was started by Rosemary Werner, director of Best Foot Forward in Amesbury, and has garnered support from numerous businesses throughout the area. Notably, Amesbury Chevrolet has set up a scholarship that will be awarded annually to a “hero” from each of Amesbury’s five schools. The dealership also donated the wristbands.
A total of nine communities will be participating in the initiative, including Amesbury, Newburyport, Portsmouth, N.H., and the communities comprising the Triton and Pentucket school districts.
During the course of the AHS assembly, state Rep. Mike Costello, D-Newburyport; Mayor Thatcher Kezer, police Chief Mark Gagnon and Deborah Smith from the Pettengill House all addressed the students. Each presented their own perspective on bullying, the impact it can have and the best ways to confront it.
“The challenge for you is to be kind when others aren’t being kind,” Costello said. “Stick up for the person that no one else is sticking up for.”
Costello and Kezer each emphasized the social aspects of bullying and what an individual can do about it, while Gagnon approached the topic from a law enforcement point of view.
After warming up the crowd by listing the seven things you never say to a police officer in Amesbury, Gagnon got serious, discussing all of the crimes that can be committed as a result of bullying and the consequences that those convictions can carry.
Gagnon then listed all of the equipment he carries on a daily basis, including his firearm, taser, handcuffs, radio and cell phone, and asked the students if they could guess which piece of equipment is responsible for the most destruction in the lives of teens across America, both bullies and those being bullied.
“The cell phone,” Gagnon said. “The choice of cyberbullies, this can get more damage done in your career than any of the other things I just talked about.”
Smith, executive director of the Pettengill House, concluded the assembly by reminding the students to be mindful of who they model their lives after and how they present themselves.
“Modeling what we see from other people, and how we want to conduct our own life, is what we need to do,” Smith said. “Even when you’re raging inside about something, it’s the way you present to someone else. Dignity and respect is the theme.”
At the start of the assembly, the AHS students held a brief refresher presentation of Rachel’s Challenge, which came to the high school last year and was well received by the student body. The students were reminded of Rachel’s five challenges: To look for the best in others, to dream big, to choose positive influences, to speak with kindness and to start your own chain reaction.
Rachel’s Challenge tells the story of Rachel Scott, who was killed in the Columbine shootings of 1999, and aims to bring positive change to young people and to quell school violence, bullying and teen suicide. An AHS Friends of Rachel Club dedicated to promoting Rachel’s message was established following the presentation and meets after school every Tuesday.