Wyatt Boyd stands helplessly plastered against a brick wall outside Athens Middle School while the class muscle – who stands a foot taller and wider – relieves him of his lunch money.

“Fork it over,” says Humberto Bahena.

“Yeah,” adds his sidekick, Keith Bridges.

Same drill, different day.

Wyatt doesn’t bother to tell a teacher about the holdup. He’s used to it. He rarely gets roughed up. And he fears retaliation.

Inside the school, Allie Dye walks into the girl’s restroom with dread. The popular girls who routinely loiter there over lunch are making her life miserable. They talk about her aloud as she enters the stall and continue the verbal barrage as she washes her hands at the sink.

“Freak!” says one girl.

“She’s so weird,” says another, as two more join in the teasing.

Allie wonders what she’s done to incur their daily wrath.

The experiences of Wyatt and Allie aren’t real. They are two of the dramatizations that students in Sherry McEwen’s seventh-grade talented and gifted civics class at AMS have included on their CD titled “Bullying: How to Stop It Now.”

The students’ bullying project began as a discussion in civics class and blossomed into an anti-bullying CD in the making, plans for a brochure and an anti-bullying T-shirt, presentations to the Athens Board of Education and Athens City Council, a promise to share their CD with other city and county schools and, most importantly, a decrease in bullying incidents at the middle school.

“They have taken this project and gone with it,” McEwen said. “The students brainstormed and came up with a list of news events and we narrowed it to those that were doable.”

The students chose the MySpace suicide. It is a true story about a 13-year-old Missouri girl named Megan Meier who struck up a friendship with "Josh" on the on-line social network called MySpace in September 2006. About a month later, on Oct. 15, “Josh” dropped Megan, saying he had heard she was a bad person. The next day, Megan told her mother, Tina, that messages were being posted saying: “Megan Meier is a slut” and “Megan Meier is fat.”

That night, on Oct. 16, 2006, her parents found her dead in her room. She had hanged herself. Her father, Ron, said he found a message the next day from "Josh," telling her she was a bad person and the world would be better without her. The parents learned about six weeks later that the boy was not real and that an adult neighbor had pretended to be “Josh.” The parents wanted the mother to be prosecuted, but there was no law against what has become known as cyber-bullying.

On the CD, which the students are working on with the help of computer guru Todd Walton, students perform skits to identify various types of bullying – ranging from alienation and humiliation to physical assault. Not only did the TAG students get involved, but the topic was so meaningful to students at the school, McEwen allowed any student who wanted to participate to do so.

“Every seven seconds a middle school kid is bullied – discovering that was an eye-opener,” she said. “Hopefully, what the student have done can make a difference.”

Some students say it already has.

Mary, not her real name, said the bullying she has endured this year has decreased since the bullying project began. Yet, the hurt is apparent in her face as she described how teasing made her feel, “You feel like nobody wants to be your friend or be around you. It gets frustrating. You almost want to go to them and do something back.”

Through their research, the students learned that 68 percent of the 235 seventh- and eighth-graders polled said they had been bullied. Of those, 156 or 66 percent said someone made fun of them; 73 or 31 percent said they had threatened; 64 or 27 percent had been harassed; 62 or 26 percent had been humiliated; 52 or 22 percent had been pushed down; 40 or 17 percent had been hit or beaten up; and 13 or 6 percent had been spit upon.

Surprisingly, bullies are more apt to be popular students. Also, nearly half of the 235 students admitted they had also bullied another student, which brought home the importance of stopping the cycle.

Mary said the bullying project, “has helped me not go back and do something they did to me, because if you do, it keeps on happening.”

Teachers and administrators at AMS are strict about bullying, and McEwen has found that allowing students to anonymously report incidents and also notifying parents of incidents has helped address the problem.

One student, Derrick Black, is open about the bullying he has weathered. Some of the black students at school tell him “he acts white” because he is smart and articulate to the point of sounding like a well-educated adult. As a military brat, he attended private schools before coming the AMS.

“It hurts my feelings, but it also makes me angry,” Derrick said. “Why can’t we reach the point where race is not an issue?”

Because they were a civics class, the students also looked at bullying and the law.

“We wanted to approach the subject from different angles, including the causes and the legal aspect,” McEwen said. “We found several cases where parents have sued over bullying.”



Bullying laws



According to the watchdog organization Bully Police USA, 34 states now have anti-bullying laws. Seventeen states, including Alabama, do not. However, Alabama is working on a law. In February, the Alabama House approved House Bill 90, which would require local boards of education to develop their own policies dealing with threats of violence from one student against another. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Betty Carol Graham, was awaiting Senate action as of Tuesday.

Utah, Kentucky and Georgia are also seeking anti-bullying laws.

Some state laws do more than require each board to adopt anti-bullying policies. They suspend bullies and prevent lawsuits against school employees who report bullying.

The best laws require schools to:

• Adopt a violence prevention policy addressing student harassment; notify parents or legal guardians of the district’s policies on bullying; report bullying by telephone and in writing to the parent or legal guardian of the students involved; suspend students who bully; and protect employees who report bullying.

Controlling bullying also involves teaching students about good character, being responsible and being a good friend.

“Middle school is the most important time,” McEwen said. “It determines if they are going to be high school graduates or drop out here. ”

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