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INNOVATOR Award recipient Bailee Harding, a student at East Lincoln High School at the regular meeting of the Lincoln County Schools Board of Education on Tuesday, Oct. 8.

An East Lincoln High School student is taking on bullying. Bailee Harding, a junior this year, attended a leadership program at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts over the summer. At this program, she learned how to develop a plan to help alleviate bullying at East Lincoln. She calls this program, “True Colors.”

“As I was there, I was thinking of different ways of helping East Lincoln because I’ve been here since the middle of my eighth-grade year,” she said. “When I got into high school, I noticed a little bit of bullying, but it got worse last year. While I was at Harvard I thought, maybe I can do something to fix it.”

Unfortunately, according to East Lincoln High School principal Marybeth Avery, bullying has always been an area of concern and challenge for K-12 education. Social media has made it more prevalent and changed its focus.

“The difference between bullying of the past and the bullying of today is the addition of the cyber arena,” she said. “Today's bullying is all too often achieved through online platforms, including social media. It's almost a weekly occurrence for at least one East Lincoln student to report being the victim of bullying on Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook.”

Students new to East Lincoln are often the victims of this type of bullying, Avery added, which is not at all what she would like to see happen to new students or any student for that matter.

“I always encourage students to resolve conflicts in a face to face setting rather than choosing to hide behind social media posts,” she said. “I encourage parents to monitor their student's use of social media and I encourage students to report instances of bullying. At East Lincoln, we work tirelessly on creating and maintaining a culture of kindness and a welcoming environment for all students, including those new to our community.” 

Harding experienced bullying at her former school where she was one of the few African-American students attending the school. 

“I was taught when I was very little to ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’” she said. “That was the golden rule in our house. You don’t treat others the way you don’t want to be treated.”

When she came to East Lincoln, she was able to shut down any bullying directed at her relatively easily. That hasn’t been the case for some of Harding’s peers. The harassment that she witnessed was not constant. It would progress, and then slow down, then pick up again.

“I didn’t know why it would do that,” she said. “There were times were there were fights every few weeks. I also noticed that sometimes teachers and other students wouldn’t do anything about it.”

At the Harvard leadership program, Harding learned how to set up a project on her own, which she did over the summer. She took this project and presented it to the School Improvement Team, and it was approved.

“We know bullying is not going to stop,” she said. “We’re human and we fear what we don’t understand and that causes us to hate. We know that if we can slow it down, it’d be a lot better for us.”

To slow bullying down, Harding believes that if you let those who are being bullied know that they’re not alone, that there are others like them and people who will listen to them, it can make a difference. 

True Colors is a 30-day plan, which was recently started at East Lincoln. The first part is to celebrate the cultures and differences of East Lincoln High School. To do this, Harding proposed having a suggestion box for daily affirmations, and when the time for morning announcements comes, pick one out of the box and give it to different students who may have something or nothing in common with the person the affirmation came from. The students would then tell what the affirmation means to them over the announcements. 

One quote that Harding particularly likes is from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”

Part two is to provide education on the problem at hand. This education could be provided by a non-profit anti-bullying organization, possibly having the organization come in and explain to the students the statistics and affects. Also, to have panels where teachers and students alike can explain their experiences as the victim or the bully themselves, if they are comfortable with it. In addition, clubs of students could come out and talk to the rest of the student body about their experiences. Finally, to have teachers talk about incidents they have witnessed. 

The last step would be to set up a tip line which would be monitored by an administrator, and in time, passed on to students. Incidents would be recorded, and if possible, the school’s resource officer could speak to the student doing the bullying and a counselor speak to the victim.

“There was a hotline on the East Lincoln website but it got taken down because no one knew it was there and no one was using it,” Harding said. “I know that because I looked for it and couldn’t find it. We’re going to try to put it back up and make it more known to the students.”

Harding is working on this project with two other students, including Morgan Dye, a junior who has been bullied a good bit, and Destiny Cantrell, who is a senior and has witnessed bullying at East Lincoln and is the editor for the project.

Harding received one of the first quarter INNOVATOR Awards for her project in early October. These awards, which are awarded at nine-week intervals, are intended to recognize staff, students or community members that have shown their ability to think through situations, find creative ways to solve problems, were tenacious in seeing a task through, connected with students and/or community or integrated subjects that made students excited about content.

“Bailee's True Colors project will support a push to become an all-inclusive campus,” Avery said. “She is an amazing young lady with a heart for her peers and a heart for continuous improvement in our school.”

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