Protecting our most valuable resource
By KIM BUNCH HOGGARD
WINDSOR – A town hall meeting held on Dec. 3 centered on the topic of keeping school students safe and productive.
The meeting was held at the Bertie County Schools Central Office. Representatives were present from the N.C. Council for Women (CFW), an advocacy agency housed in the state’s Department of Administration, regional law enforcement, public health agencies, and local educators.
Bullying and gangs, teen dating violence, youth and human trafficking and internet safety were the topics of discussion.
CFW representatives discussed a new project being launched by Governor Pat McCrory’s office designed to combat human trafficking.
It is entitled “Project COPE” which stands for: Collaboration, Outreach, Protection, and Empowerment. The purpose of this project is to improve services to children impacted by human trafficking because this crime is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States and is on the rise in North Carolina.
There was a panel set up to guide discussions on these topics comprised of Kiricka Yarborough Smith, Human Trafficking Project COPE administrator, Thelma Askew, Roanoke Chowan SAFE Council for Women, Linda Murphy, NC Council for Women Eastern Regional Director, and Officers Raymond Vaughan Jr. and Dwayne Carter of the Northampton County Sheriff’s Office.
Mike Anderson, deputy director of the NC Center of Safer Schools, a guest speaker at the event, opened the discussion by talking about school bullying.
He said there are 100,000 students absent each day due to school bullying across the nation. He added that school bullying takes place face to face as well as through social media.
Anderson explained that cell phones have perpetuated the spread of school bullying.
“A trip to the principal’s office for a student to report being bullied has to be carefully choreographed,” Anderson said. “The student’s every move is being watched and reported via cell phones, therefore, they are a target as soon as they leave the office.”
He added that social media makes it very difficult to detect bullying.
Anderson talked about school shootings and how they have affected every type of school, such as Columbine, a high school, Sandy Hook, an elementary school, and Virginia Tech, a university.
He said there are no boundaries, therefore, administrators in all learning arenas have to take actions to make their facilities safe.
Anderson closed by saying, “The mindset has to be changed, you can no longer say ‘that’s just the way Johnny rolls.’ If you hear a student verbalizing threats or making insinuations you have to act.”
Murphy discussed teen dating violence. She stated that it is important for parents, teachers, and school counselors become active in helping young girls build their self esteem and self worth so they won’t fall prey to those looking to abuse them.
Murphy added that adults should instruct adolescents about signs of an abusive relationships and how to avoid them.
Vaughan discussed gangs and gang violence, explaining incidents he has witnessed in Northampton County. He spoke about 30-second fights where students prearrange a confrontation and record it for 30 seconds then post the fight on social media, such as Twitter.
Vaughan also spoke how you can identify a gang member. He said each gang chooses a particular color that represents them. Gang members show their colors by wearing a pocket handkerchief, or a head or wrist band of their corresponding color.
Vaughan commented that there is “gang jargon” and students often scribble these terms in their notebooks.
He added that it’s important for adults to educate themselves on these terms so they can use them to identify gang members.
A valuable dialogue continued between the panel and the audience about what can be done to help students be successful and not be affected by bullying, gang activity, or sexual exploitation.
Murphy interjected that it takes more than a village to raise a child and conversations between educators, law enforcement officers, government and health agency personnel, and parents must be continue to combat these problems.