Ricebird Red will be replaced by a sea of orange next week at El Campo Middle School in honor of Unity Day, a national effort to spread kindness and end school bullying.
Students and community members are invited to don orange shirts on Wednesday, Oct. 21. This campaign aimed at preventing bullying was launched by the Minnesota Parent Training and Information Center’s (PACER) National Bullying Prevention Center in 2006.
“Unity Day is about anti-bullying, but we try to encourage turning it around a little bit positively and say it’s a time to (practice) kindness, acceptance and inclusion,” ECMS Counselor Cindy Witcher said.
ECMS educators and students have been celebrating Unity Day for about five years. Other El Campo ISD campuses and some community members joined in the event last year, wearing orange to show their support.
The event is meaningful to students, especially those who have experienced bullying themselves, Witcher said.
Students “will come up to you and say, ‘I’m wearing my orange shirt because I get bullied, and I don’t like it,’” she added. “You may think it’s not really a problem, but it really is. They can say mean things to each other and don’t realize how much it hurts each others’ feelings.”
Texas law defines bullying and cyberbullying as “a single significant act or a pattern of acts by one or more students directed at another student that exploits an imbalance of power,” and physically harms a student or their property or places that student in fear of harm, among other criteria.
One of five students in the U.S. reports being bullied, according to a study from the U.S. Department of Education.
In previous years, students wrote notes containing kind words about each other that were hung in school hallways for everyone to walk around and read. This year, students will write poems about kindness and sign a pledge to stand against bullying.
This year’s event won’t be exactly like previous Unity Days, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Things will be kind of different this year,” Witcher said. “We’re not moving so freely throughout the building.”
Bullying-prevention programs in schools can decrease bullying by about 25 percent, according to a Congressional Research Service study in 2013.
Unity Day is part of PACER’s annual National Bullying Prevention Month held annually in October. The campaign aims to eliminate bullying in schools through education and activities, according to PACER.org.
“Historically, bullying had been viewed as ‘a childhood rite of passage’ that ‘made kids tougher,’ but the reality has always been that bullying can leave devastating and often long-term effects such as a loss of self-esteem, increased anxiety, and depression for those involved,” according to PACER.org.
Earlier this year, ECISD leaders implemented a new anonymous tip reporting system that can be used to report bullying, abuse, assault, depression, substance abuse and more dangerous situations pertaining to students if witnessed.
The “Say Something Anonymous Reporting System,” provides an online tip submission form, phone hot line and app in an effort to prevent youth violence.
The tipline can be accessed by visiting www.saysomething.net/#submit_tip, downloading the Say Something ARS app or calling 1-844-5-SAYNOW.