Over 1,400 students, teachers, administrators and elected officials assembled to promote inclusivity, equity and to put an end to bullying on Oct. 27.
Students and staff from grades K-12 at South Whidbey Elementary School and South Whidbey High School gathered at “Sled Hill” next to the Castle playground as part of “Unity Day,” a national effort to rally against bullying. It was the first time in South Whidbey’s history that the entire school district was brought together for a singular purpose.
South Whidbey School Board Directors Linda Racicot, Shawn Nowlin and Julie Hadden, and Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson were also in attendance.
South Whidbey School District Superintendent Jo Moccia stood before the crowd with a microphone. Written behind her in white letters were messages of “Unity” and “Kindness Rocks,” which encapsulated the underlying purpose of the gathering.
“One of the things we need to stop in our school district is any kind of bullying, any kind of put downs,” Moccia said. “The only way we’re going to be able to stop it is if you all help to do that.”
Moccia asked the crowd if students had ever seen or encountered teasing or bullying. Many rose their hands.
“I want you to take a moment of silence and really think about how that hurts,” Moccia said. “That’s not what we want in our school district. We want our school and community to be a safe place. No one should be bullied.”
She then asked the crowd if they had ever seen bullying and did something to stop it. Dozens raised there hands to applause. Moccia said students completed a survey a year ago that showed some students felt the schools weren’t a safe place and were vulnerable to bullying. She added that silence is damaging, kids need to speak up and adults need to intervene.
“We want you to know that you need to report it and you need to go to an adult,” Moccia said. “We certainly know that bad things can happen and we know bullying happens. It is not a secret. But, we need to stop it.”
Following Moccia’s remarks, K-6 music teacher Kerry Sjoblom led the crowd in singing “What The World Needs Now Is Love” by Jackie DeShannon.
“I think that is a sentiment that is very much part of today in uniting us and bringing love to our world,” Sjoblom said.
Seventh graders Maddy Racicot and Eva Wirth were glad the event happened.
“I kind of like that people are raising awareness about the fact that bullying actually happens, even though not everyone sees it,” Wirth said.
Racicot and Wirth said bullying isn’t widespread, but that it occurs occasionally.
High school seniors Bryanna Klebold and Sierra Bouthillier were also glad to have participated.
“It was pretty cool being all together,” Klebold said. “It’s really important to stop bullying. I was bullied when I was younger.”
Bouthillier said the message was far more impactful with the entire school district gathered in one place.
“When you get everyone together, it’s really cool to see that you’re here for the same reason,” Bouthillier said.
Klebold is optimistic that the messages preached during the event will work, so long as kids follow through. Bouthillier added that bullying or lack of inclusion isn’t a problem in the high school.
“Our school is already pretty inclusive with all grades and genders and everything,” Bouthillier said. “I don’t think there’s as much bullying here as there are in bigger school districts. But, when it’s here, it’s weird because everyone is so close to each other.”