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Locust Grove students promote tolerance

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Shanielle Bland noticed that the wall of notes at her school, describing intolerance, was not large enough, to contain the various declarations of experiences with bullying.

"I seen this kid get hit in the face, and I didn't do anything to stop it," read one note.

"I teased a girl for wearing the same jeans...," a student admitted on the wall.

"There was a time at lunch where some boy took someone's lunch money, and he couldn't eat lunch," revealed another notation.

Pupils at Locust Grove High School had filled a section of a wall in the school's cafeteria with these anonymous red notes describing situations in which they had been bullied, or bullied others.

Bland is a senior student-athlete at the school, whose recollection of being bullied as a child was not posted on the wall. She said she overcame the affects of bullying as she grew more mature and confident in herself.

Bland, 18, is a member of the school's diversity club, which organized a school-wide activity Tuesday, observing Mix It Up at Lunch Day.

The Mix It Up at Lunch Day activity asks students to have lunch with someone new, and is part of a national campaign sponsored by the Montgomery, Ala.-based Southern Poverty Law Center, to promote tolerance.

"I do this, so I can help everyone come together as one," said Bland. "I think everyone should be treated the same, and everyone is the same."

Diversity club members Tim Clanton, Lissan Mendez, Alex Smelcer, Summer Quinton, and Dawson Wilson were charged with encouraging students, during the school's first lunch period, to branch out and meet different people at the school of 1,050 pupils.

"Typically, kids sit with whoever they know best," said Wilson, a sophomore at the school. "They are more comfortable with that, and people as a whole are very pattern-oriented."

Wilson said the activity addressed a component of bullying in which students may feel excluded, or ostracized from one group or another, because they are different.

The 16-year-old acknowledged he, too, was bullied when he was younger. Most students who wrote notes for the school's wall of intolerance, told similar experiences of bullying as young children. He said students were asked to take a piece of paper shaped like brick, down from the wall, in a symbolic gesture, to dismantle the "wall" of bullying.

"People are bullied because they are different," Wilson added. "Some people bully because they don't have good situations themselves."

Wilson said the lessons learned through the Mix It Up at Lunch Day activity go beyond having lunch with someone different, and beyond the school's student body.

"I've seen adults who don't tolerate difference very well," he said. "I'm hoping a lot more people will begin switching it up."