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Anti-bully message makes an impression

Students at Lakota Middle School in Federal Way will be a little bit nicer to one another this week after a recent anti-bullying assembly featuring speaker Mark Brown of Georgia.

Brown travels across the country giving motivational speeches to 200 schools each year, aiming to reduce the amount of bullying and name-calling that occurs in most schools.

He had a way with the 710 students at Lakota. Each student was actively engaged, listening, laughing, raising their hands and applauding.

Brown first got the students' attention by doing impersonations of Disney cartoon characters, drawing enthusiastic applause. He won their affection. Then he moved into more serious topics.

It was 1972 and Brown was in the sixth grade at a small school in Jamaica. He was bullied by three girls, Michelle, Carol and Charmaine, he told the students. The girls teased him relentlessly — so much that even 35 years later, he still remembers those girls and how mean they were.

"How will people remember you in 35 years?" Brown asked the students.

Bullying has been going on a long time and it often leads to horrific responses. Words are weapons, Brown said. He told stories about children who committed suicide because of bullying. He also told of other students who dropped out or had to change schools.

He used an analogy from the Disney movie "Beauty and the Beast" to emphasize his point. Children identified with the character comparison.

Brown received a standing ovation, and at the conclusion of the assembly, students lined up to get autographs.

Lakota principal Pam Tuggle said the assembly was a good way to kick off anti-bullying week, which begins Monday.

There will be daily announcements at the school, and counselors will visit each classroom to discuss bullying and harassment. They will discuss the difference between tattling and reporting, Tuggle said.

The events usually inspire children to report bullying that was previously unreported, she said.

Bullying is a problem at most every middle school, Tuggle said.

"Kids do call names or make fun," she said. "They say things like ‘that's dumb’ or things like that."

After the assembly, seventh-grader Jeff Lash said he would apologize to about five to 10 students that he had bullied.

"It made me think about all the people I've been mean to," he said.

Kids in middle school often call on another names like gay, slut and whore. Sometimes students use racial slurs. They also insult one another's mothers, Lash said. Often times, the insults lead to physical fighting at lunch or after school.

Kids bully because they want to make their peers look up to them for being tough, Lash said.

More often than not, the fights are broken up quickly or end up just not happening.

One student, whose parents were unavailable to give permission for her name to appear in The Mirror, said the assembly inspired her to be nicer to her peers. She planned to become friends with students who were normally left out.

"I feel like I should do something to help," she said.

Those words are some of Brown's favorites to hear after an assembly.

"My goal is to get kids to think really hard about the impact of their behavior," he said. "If I can get these kids to think differently every once in a while, I've been a success."

Contact Margo Horner: mhorner@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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