COLLIER COUNTY, Fla - Schools in Southwest Florida and around the country are joining together to combat bullying, an epidemic that affects one in every four students. In Collier County, students and leaders are working daily to prevent the problem.
Monday, October 1 is National Stomp Out Bullying Day, but everyday in Collier County schools are working with students to promote their "Don't Hate Texting Campaign." They have posters in the hallway and are distributing these bracelets that encourage students to report bullying.
Research shows bullying affects millions of teens across the country and 43 percent of students are being bullied online. These numbers don't surprise Cpl. Sandi Sprenger, a Youth Relations Officer at Pine Ridge Middle School. "When we were growing up, we didn't have this whole social networking dynamic to deal with. When we left school, we left the bully at the school, per se. Now they don't get a break from it. It's a constant and can be a 24 hour thing," says Cpl. Sprenger.
Alex Stanco, an 8th grader at Pine Ridge Middle School says the biggest problem is victims of bullying rarely speak out. She says, "I think the huge problem is that kids don't come to adults, even if they know the teacher for three years, they won't go to them, so i think the anonymous texting line we started is a great idea."
At the end of last year, the Collier County Sheriff's Office, Crimestoppers and the Collier County School District launched a "DNTH8" texting campaign where kids can use social media to text "DNTH8" to anonymously report bullying. "It gives them a completely anonymous avenue for which to help themselves or a friend that might be finding them in a bully situation," says Cpl. Sprenger.
This year, the school district is branching out to give students more options to report bullying by trying to get school nurses and bus drivers more involved. "We always tell our students, you have to tell. If you're the victim or you see it going on, you have to tell an adult," says Christy Kutz, Director of Student Services.
Authorities admit they haven't seen many kids using the texting hotline, but they're hoping that distributing the bracelets and posters along with some parental involvement will jump start the program.