CNN to recognize Poplar Bluff Schools’ anti-bullying efforts
Posted on 02/18/2013

The recent momentum of the anti-bullying movement at Poplar Bluff Schools is being recognized nationally.

A photograph of our Human Heroes chapter of the Stand for the Silent organization will be featured on “The Bully Effect,” a documentary to premiere on Anderson Cooper’s “360” at 9 p.m. Feb. 28, and rerun at 7 p.m. March 3 and 9, show producer Chuck Hadad confirmed in an email.

Hadad received the recommendation about our chapter directly from SFTS founder Kirk Smalley, who was featured on the critically acclaimed movie “Bully,” the basis for CNN’s follow-up.

“Scott” Phelps, Poplar Bluff Police Department computer crime investigator, “started an SFTS chapter” at Poplar Bluff Schools “and has over 300 kids in it, and we haven’t even been to their school yet,” Smalley wrote to CNN. “They did a wonderful float in their Christmas parade!”

Smalley was referring to the anti-bully themed floats created by Poplar Bluff Junior and Senior High students for the city’s annual Christmas parade, a photo from which will be featured in the documentary’s montage highlighting post-“Bully” success stories.

Since Smalley’s son Ty Field committed suicide in 2010 at 11 years old as the result of bullying, Smalley has dedicated his life to combating the critical matter in America. The Oklahoma man will speak to Poplar Bluff students, plus some bussed in from Twin Rivers, March 28 during anti-bully week.

“What I want to happen is to just keep going—keep the anti-bullying movement on the forefront, [to] where we’re not forgetting about it,” said Det. Phelps, who was instrumental in booking Smalley for the high-profile speaking engagement. “We want kids to realize it’s not cool to bully someone. Older and mature people who did that feel bad about it.”

The movement formally began to take shape in the R-I district at the end of last school year, when a community effort afforded area students the opportunity to see “Bully” for free.

Released on DVD last week, “Bully” follows several people affected by bullying in various stages of the epidemic. The Butler County Community Resource Council, under which Phelps sits on the Juvenile Crime Reduction Committee, organized the necessary fundraiser.

The documentary was only shown at select theaters, excluding AMC Showplace 8 on Westwood Boulevard, so Phelps linked up with “Designing Women” writer/producer and Poplar Bluff native Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and her husband Harry to bring it here, thanks to the couple’s “Hollywood connections.”

“I’m not kidding you, it wasn’t but two hours later that the president of distribution for The Weinstein Company, who made the film, called me to say, ‘I think it’s a wonderful idea. What do you need, and you’ll have it?’” Phelps recalled. “I said, ‘I just need the movie,’ and he told me when it’ll be here.”

After junior high students and high school freshmen and sophomores, along with a group from Naylor, watched the movie, Phelps was adamant about keeping its message alive, so he contacted Smalley about starting an SFTS chapter here.

With full cooperation from school officials throughout every step, according to Phelps, the Human Heroes chapter was conceived, with about 200 junior high and 100 senior high students initially signing up. The junior high group meets at 7:35 a.m. on Fridays in the cafeteria, and senior high meets at 7:15 a.m. on Wednesdays in the student center. All students are welcomed.

“We’ve had a couple incidents where kids stood up for other kids [getting bullied], and the ones who have taken the stand happen to be kids from our club,” reported R-I School Resource Officer Jason Courtney, the junior high club sponsor.

Sophomore Nicholas Ducote, who just transferred to PBHS from Texas this month, said he has already had students invite him to their table for lunch. “It’s different here,” he stated.

One of the SFTS goals is to not create any outsiders. “It can be as simple as paying attention to another kid in the hallway, just being friendly and saying, ‘Hi,’” said R-I SRO Andy Cleaveland, the high school club sponsor.

While bullying may have always existed in society, it has been argued, the extreme level of violence in recent years has compelled Poplar Bluff school officials to take a proactive stance, rather than turning a blind eye to the hot-button issue.

“Whether it be in person or online, bullying is a major problem because of the effect it has on someone mentally, even more so than physically,” Phelps said. “…You can never say we didn’t try. We’re not a school that doesn’t care. Every kid deserves to go to school in a learning environment, not dread it.”

The Human Heroes club is holding its first fundraiser, a pancake breakfast for $5, from 8-10 a.m. March 9 at Applebee’s. The proceeds will go toward getting a licensed counselor to attend the student-led weekly meetings, according to Ally Hendricks, president of the high school group.

“We want to stop bullying—put an end to it, and raise awareness that it occurs on all levels, and it’s not OK,” said Hendricks, a sophomore. “We’re here to support you.”


Cutline: To be featured on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” at the end of the month, this float photo includes members of the PBJHS Stand for the Silent chapter during the city’s recent Christmas parade.

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