Hazelwood students speak out about combating bullying

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ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MO (KTVI) - These are stories from the lips of children that would be frightening if they happened to us at work.  It`s happening in schools, where kids want to talk about it, but they're not sure who's listening.

The mom of a 5th grader said her son saw his name written inside a threat. '(He) must die is what it said, written on his desk,' Stephanie Tuft`s said.  Her son attends Hazelwood`s McNair Elementary school.  She said her son told her about the written threat and then told her it became more frightening when he said, 'Monday I`m bringing a knife to school.'  Tufts added, 'Kids shouldn`t have to worry about someone threatening their life at school.'

8th grader Ashlyn Williams was riding a school bus to Hazelwood Central Middle when she noticed a boy attacking another student on the bus.  Ashlyn told us the boy was 'trying to light him on fire with the lighter.'  She said he was holding him down and burning him.  Then after she reported it, she said other students told her 'Snitches get stitches.  I didn`t think that was true, I didn`t really look at that for real, but it`s true.'

Both mothers feel ignored by the school district and even other parents.  Tufts said, 'People just really aren`t interested in stepping up, taking a stand.'

Ashlyn`s Mom Colby Mason said, 'We`re trying to do everything we can to move and relocate so we don`t have to send her back to the school.'

FOX 2 contacted the Hazelwood School District.  A spokesman declined to talk on camera, but sent two emails listing what he called "evidence based programs."  Spokesman Jack Wang listed the 'Positive Behavior Interventions Supports Model" and "PATHS: Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies" where "counselors go into.. classrooms" and teach "bullying prevention, conflict resolution, empathy and tolerance."

Ashlyn says she remembered a powerful program at her previous school, Ritenour.  She said it involved students, who would resolve issues through peer mediation.  Ashlyn explained, 'A student come from one grade and a student come from a different grade but you don`t know the students.  They talk it out, they write everything down and at the end they tell us come up with a solution of what you`re going to do, sign off on it and that`s it and it usually works out.'

Mark Norwine said, 'That`s actually the program we started at Ritenour middle school.'

We found out by chance when talking to Mark Norwine with CHADS Coalition for a recent FOX 2 special report on mental illness.  Norwine said, 'Everybody`s been bullied at some time of their life, but hardly anybody knows, even the parents don`t have any clue what to do for their kid if their kids being bullied and if there`s not a program tying the parents and the school and the kids all together then typically kids are getting lost in that shuffle.'

Norwine says the program that includes kids is called the Olweaus bullying prevention program.  He said, 'We chose it specifically because it`s supposed to be the Cadillac of all programs.'  Out of hundreds of schools in the St. Louis area, he said only about 30 use Olweaus.  Norwine added, '(The schools that use it have) not only seen results that they can show in terms of discipline, referrals, things like that, kids can feel the climate change.  But just as important, the state`s statistics show that (they) echo that they`ve made changes in those schools.'

Ashlyn says she wants to be part of that change.  She's offered to be an ambassador for peer mediation.

Empathy is a big part of peer mediation.  Empathy is disappearing, according to therapists.  A life crisis counselor recently told FOX 2 that researchers are finding kids today are 40% less empathic than previous generations.

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