Being a voice: Resource officers urge students to speak up on bullying

Published 9:08 am Thursday, September 29, 2016

Officer Kayla Watkins and Lt. LaMar Thompson talk with students at Picayune Junior High.

Officer Kayla Watkins and Lt. LaMar Thompson talk with students at Picayune Junior High.

The Voice, a new program by the Picayune Police Department in elementary and junior high schools, aims to reduce bullying by making students accountable to each other–and themselves.

Lt. LaMar Thompson, commander of Picayune School District resources officers, came up with the name while thinking about the effects of bullying.

“When kids are being bullied, they don’t have a voice,” he said. The solution he came up with is a pledge, to be recited aloud and signed in written form.

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“Our purpose is to be a VOICE in our school and community,” the pledge reads. “We will create an environment where our VOICE will matter no matter who you are or what you look like. We will speak up for the silenced. We will speak up against bullying, hate, and violence. It will not be tolerated or ignored. I will be a VOICE!”

“What we’ll do is we’ll raise our right hands and say this pledge, and then sign it,” Thompson said. “It’s like they are signing a contract.”

Officer Kayla Watkins, the resource officer at Nicholson Elementary School, worked with Thompson to draw up the program, which will kick off Friday with a rally at 9:30 a.m. for Nicholson and West Side elementary students at the Picayune Auditorium.

The event will feature a taekwondo demonstration by a nationally recognized team of youngsters from Rick Weems Martial Arts in Slidell and a talk by studio owner Jude Grayson.

Rallies for the other schools will be scheduled soon, Thompson said.

The approach of getting students to promise to stand up to bullying before it happens, and give them those tools in lower grades, may help stem problems later in life, the officers said.

“This is more proactive instead of reactive,” Watkins said. “With the increasing use of social media, we’re getting more complaints from parents and administrators about bullying. It’s one thing when you’re online, but then it rolls over into real life the next day at school.”

The officers agreed that technology, especially the Internet and social media programs that allow instant and sometimes anonymous communication, has exacerbated the bullying problem, and too often parents aren’t even aware.

“The kids are technologically smarter now than their parents,” Thompson said. “Parents don’t even know they have these apps, and the kids know how to hide them.”

Bullied children sometimes are afraid to speak up because their life at home isn’t secure, Watkins said.

“The school might be the only safe place they go to all day,” Watkins said. “Why should we take that safe zone away?”

Thompson and Watkins pitched the idea to Picayune Police Chief Bryan Dawsey, who was concerned about stories of young people being driven to suicide by bullying.

“I want to thank the school district administration for being very supportive of this program,” Dawsey, a former school resource officer, said. “If we can save the life of one child, it will be a success.”

Dawsey said he’s hoping to expand the anti-bullying program outside the campuses.

“We’re already reaching out to youth groups at the churches,” Dawsey said. “We plan on not only doing it in the schools, but we’ll take it to the playgrounds, the markets. We want to get this message out.”