BY SARAH GREGORY
On Thursday, students at Greeneville Middle School (GMS) heard a presentation and received special bracelets as part of one girl's efforts to raise awareness about -- and help stop -- cyber-bullying in Greene County.
Cyber-bullying is a common practice among today's youth in which a bully uses technology such as a computer or mobile phone to harass a victim -- often anonymously.
Kylie Rose McCormick, an eighth-grade student at GMS, was crowned Miss Greene County Teen Princess 2013 in October. At that time, she chose "Stop Cyber- Bullying" as her service platform.
McCormick followed up on that decision by creating a presentation about cyber-bullying and its effects.
She also coordinated with local businesses and organizations, such as the Rotary Club of Greeneville, to raise enough funds to provide a bracelet for every GMS student, in the school colors of black and green, with the "Stop Cyber-Bullying" message
GMS Assistant Principal Stacy Salyer said McCormick approached him about the idea and asked if he'd join her in the presentation.
"No one told her to do this," Salyer said. "Kylie chose this and did this all on her own."
Todd and Katherine McCormick, Kylie McCormick's parents, visited GMS to watch the presentations.
They noted how supportive Salyer, GMS Principal Heather Boegemann, and Greeneville City Schools Director Dr. Linda B. Stroud have been.
"She's [Kylie's] worked hard on this," Todd McCormick said, referring to his daughter. "Dr. Stroud and [the] school administration have been very supportive of Kylie's project."
Stroud visited the school to speak with McCormick and watch the presentation. At its conclusion the schools director smiled widely and asked, "Wasn't it great?"
TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Kylie McCormick, her parents said, had never participated in a pageant prior to the Miss Greene County Teen Princess competition, which she won in October.
"Kylie chose to enter. I think she wanted to show that a normal person who's never been in a pageant before can do it, win, and make a difference," said her mother, Katherine McCormick.
The prevalence of cyber-bullying was the motivation behind her daughter's choice of a service project, her mother said.
"It happens everywhere," Kylie said Thursday.
"I've had mean text messages sent to me," she added. "I've seen mean stuff on Facebook [a popular social networking website] and Instagram [a popular picture-sharing application, or app]. People commenting [negatively] on pictures."
McCormick gave the presentation three times Thursday during the respective lunch periods of sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students.
Each presentation began with McCormick and Salyer conducting a quick three-question survey.
They asked students to raise their hand if they owned a mobile phone, or had a profile on the Facebook social networking website, or knew the password to a friend or family member's Facebook "profile."
Salyer noted that approximately 90 percent of students raised their hand in response to each question. He says such high prevalence was consistent in each of the school's grade groups.
"This is something we deal with every day. Not every week -- every day," he said.
"I know you see it [cyber-bullying] happening. You just told me you can do it," Salyer said to the students, highlighting how simple it is for cyber-bullies to harass their victims, given the widespread use of technology among today's youth.
PROMINENT CASE CITED
McCormick used a series of slides to detail how victims of cyber-bullying tend to withdraw socially and begin to mistrust their peers.
She pointed to a prominent cyber-bullying case in Canada that gained international attention when Amanda Todd, a girl who had been bullied relentlessly both online and offline, posted an online video confessing the torment she experienced shortly before committing suicide.
McCormick asked the students how many had heard of the case. A show of hands revealed the majority to be familiar with the Amanda Todd story.
McCormick continued to explain how victims of bullying can develop depression or other mental health issues, or can begin to inflict pain or other harm upon themselves.
She and Salyer highlighted how the often-anonymous nature of online attacks emboldens the perpetrators in such a way that cyber-bullying attacks are often particularly vicious.
"It makes the bully feel more confident, because they don't have to do it face-to-face," McCormick said.
"It's not a good feeling," she commented. "I've been cyber-bullied before. I know people in this room who have been cyber bullied."
She also noted how bullying tends to get worse over time as the bully gains more confidence and popularity among other bullies.
At the end of the presentation, McCormick made a plea to fellow students to be pro-active in stopping the practice.
She noted that many young people are too ashamed to tell someone else about what they are experiencing.
But she encouraged students to find someone to talk to if they find themselves being victimized, and, as examples, she mentioned teachers, guidance counselors, and Greeneville Police Officer Kevin Guinn, who is present at the school every day as part of the school system's enhanced security measures.
"Even if we don't know each other, or even if we've never talked, you can come talk to me," McCormick offered.
McCormick's presentation was not created with only GMS students in mind.
She has plans to share the presentation with students at Mosheim Middle School.
McCormick continued her fundraising efforts and coordinated with Mosheim Middle School's Parent Teacher Association (PTA) to have enough funds to order more "Stop Cyber-Bullying" bracelets -- made in the school colors of gold and purple -- for students at that school.
She says she's also hoping to go to other schools, or maybe even make a video presentation to share.
"This is one of the big things," she said -- "to get it out and open to the public that I'm actually doing this."
Katherine McCormick noted that, with the pageant title, Kylie McCormick will represent Greene County in the Miss Tennessee Teen Princess 2013 competition in Jackson on March 23.
That competition is the teen division in the Miss Tennessee pageant, which is part of the Miss America organization. Katherine McCormick explained, highlighting her daughter's enthusiasm and willingness to make the presentation to students in schools other than her own.
Any clubs, organizations, or individuals wishing to help with fundraising for the bracelets, or schools that would like to host the presentation, can contact Katherine McCormick at 423-552-3616.