WHEELING - Wheeling Park High School counselor Jennifer Kucera-Short said the largest issue the high school has when it comes to bullying is silence.
"The biggest problem we probably face here at the high school is lack of knowledge," Kucera-Short said. "A lot of times students who are being bullied don't want to come forward. They're afraid that it's going to make things worse. The more we know, the more we can help and get some relief for those students."
According to Kucera-Short, in an age of social media, students are being exposed to types of bullying not seen before - threatening text messages, emails and harassment through pictures and videos on popular social media sites.
Photo by Sarah Harmon
Guidance counselor Jennifer Kucera-Short sits in her office at Wheeling Park High School. Kucera-Short says bullying through social media has grown and is more difficult to track.
"We deal with a lot of social media bullying with Facebook, texting, Twitter," Kucera-Short said. "Once it's out on social media, it's hard often for us to stop it. These days it's not even just one word said, it's something that escalates and it's taken to complete extremes because of social networking."
She said once bullying is taken to a counselor or administrator, the high school works closely together to obtain statements from the victim, witnesses and the person accused of being a bully. Once the school gets that information a decision can be made on counseling the victim and disciplinary action for the bully.
"I would encourage, if you're being bullied, to go to a parent, go to a friend, go to a teacher, a counselor or administrator, any adult. I also encourage students who are just innocent bystanders. They don't need to be the silent majority. They need to come forward to help their peers."
She said warning signs parents can look for if their child is being bullied includes declining grades, a decrease in participation in school, change of friends, loss of friends, change in sleep patterns and an overall change of attitude in school.
"There are long-term effects in bullying, which is why we take it very seriously here at Wheeling Park. Students who are bullied suffer from self-esteem issues their entire life, which can lead to depression and anxiety problems. They can often times lead to drug and alcohol abuse. Things like this, you have to take very seriously."
In recognition of National Bullying Prevention Month, students have formed an anti-bullying group "Friends of Rachael" based on the nationwide program "Rachael's Challenge" which inspires young people to treat each other with kindness through various programs.
Counselor Sallie Minor said the club meets during activity period and brainstorms ways to create an "atmosphere of kindness at Wheeling Park."
"'Friend of Rachael' encourages students just to be kind to one another," Kucera-Short said. "We always tell them to be aware of what they're texting somebody, be aware of what you are posting on Facebook, the comments you are making because you are saying and doing things that are going to have an effect on someone. Be positive about what you're putting out there, because you can't control it once you hit send."