A new initiative to stop bullying focuses not on the bully or the victim -- but the kids on the sidelines.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer announced the new initiative for the city's schools on Thursday, called Stand Up Orlando.
"It used to be, maybe you could avoid first period because you were bullied by someone in first period," Dyer said during the announcement. "But now with the internet and the ability to text and access someone 24 hours a day it's a much different situation."
Stand Up Orlando reaches out to students in middle schools who see bullying happen to get them to report those instances. Dyer said that more than half of bullying instances stop when when someone intervenes.
The program uses the Upstanders: Stand Up to Bullying initiative that's funded by the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Florida. The program teaches the stories of people who rescued Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust to inspire kids to intervene. The five session curriculum will be taught to sixth and seventh graders in nine Orlando middle schools schools:
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The mayor's initiative also includes a new outreach coordinator from The Zebra Coalition to help train teachers, counselors and after school program coordinators. The program will also keep the "Super Kids" bullying prevention program for fifth grader going, and increase awareness of the anonymous "Speakout" hotline for kids.
Neil Boris, chief of behavioral health at Nemours children's hospital, said what's needed to stop bullying is to change the culture of the schools. Every year an estimated 13 million kids are bullied in the U.S.
"I'm not sure [bullying in] Central Florida is worse than anywhere else, but that means it's a serious problem here," Boris said.
Jllana Mitchell, a Carver Middle School student, understands the need for the program. She said she's been bullied in the past. Mitchell said the problem is kids don't necessarily know what problems other kids have. Boris agrees.
"The bullies themselves, we have very good evidence, have mental health issues," Boris said. "Typically lots of psychosocial stress that they're dealing with in their home life. The victims then suffer from being a victim. And for them it can be so serious that they get seriously depressed."
Mitchell said she was bullied for the way she dressed, even though she said she was just being herself. "It made me feel like I didn't want to live no more," Mitchell said. "Like everyone hated me."
Mitchell is now part of the Stand Up program.
"When kids see this they know they're not alone," she said. "They know they can be whoever they want, they can be who they can be, but still be happy."
The Stand Up Orlando program is sponsored by 10 local groups, including:
- Florida Hospital for Children
- Universal Orlando Resort
- Wayne Densch Charitable Trust
- Nemours Children’s Hospital
- Tavistock Foundation
- Westgate Resorts Foundation
- Golf Channel
- Charity Challenge
- Ana G. Mendez University
- I-Drive Nascar Indoor Kart Racing
- Florida Blue
Children who wish to report bullying can call the Speakout Hotline at 1-800-423-TIPS, go to the Speakout Hotline website, or Text "speakout" plus the tip to 274637.