Carrying signs reading "Stop Bullying Now!" and "Bully Free Zone," children from the Dumas Discovery Center Child Care Center, center staff, and some parents marched around the Moore County 1st Street Annex Thursday to protest against the growing problem of bullying among children. The demonstration was part of an entire week of "age appropriate" instruction devoted to the topic that staff at the center came up with and called "Anti-Bullying Spirit Week." The Discovery Center is housed in the Annex.
"There is so much (bullying) in the world … my heart goes out to our babies," said Kimberly Davis, Dumas Discovery Center Director. "We, as adults, should be able to put a stop to this. It is wrong, no matter what level or age."
Davis, who spent 20 years as a teacher, says the older children who come to the center confide in staff members about what goes on at school and elsewhere. (The center accepts children from age six weeks to 12.) "We put our heads together and came up with something to stand against abuse," she said. "Baby-sitting is not an option here. Everything we do is an educational point."
Each day during Anti-Bullying Spirit Week, the children wore different colors and participated in skits, dances, songs, and other activities designed to teach them lessons on tolerance, inclusion, kindness, and respect. The week ended Friday with a "dream-of-being-kind-to-one-another"-themed pajama party.
Davis says parents have been very supportive of the effort, some even going so far as to wear each day's color along with their children. Sonic and JBS helped spread the word and allowed parents who were employees to participate.
Davis says many of the bullying issues she sees at the center are a continuation of conflict that began during the school day. Whenever staff become aware of a problem or conflict between children, "we bring them in and sit them down and talk about what is a better way to handle it. We just educate as much as we can as soon as we hear about it," she said. "Even if it is just a concern they have, we want to address it in a way that teaches them." Davis says she encourages children to tell parents, teachers at school, or center staff when something has taken place. "We are always here for you," she says she tells them.
Children are not always verbal about their problems. "Know how to recognize signs," she tells parents. One girl at the center had always been very friendly and happy, but her behavior changed suddenly. She became withdrawn. As it turned out, "she had been bullied at school. Don't ignore signs." The case was complicated by the fact that the girl did not speak English as her first language, something that is the case with many of the children at the center. Davis says the staff, some of whom are bilingual, usually manage to overcome the language barrier, however, but it is difficult.
Davis hopes to make "Anti-Bullying Spirit Week" an annual event. Next year, she would like to have the march in a different, more visible location.