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Concord High student starts anti-bullying club to spread message of kindness

  • Maria Wilkinson (right), a sophomore at Concord High School, Tyler Ford (to the left of Wilkinson) and Raman Sandhu (to the left of Ford) encourage their classmates to sign an anti-bullying pledge and buy wrist bands to bring awareness to the issue of bullying at Concord High; Tuesday, February 11, 2013. Wilkinson, Ford, and Sandhu are all officers in Concord High School's anti-bullying club which Wilkinson started in October 2012 after a series of anonymous tweets that targeted students at Concord High made her feel like students should be doing more to stand up against bullies at her school.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Maria Wilkinson (right), a sophomore at Concord High School, Tyler Ford (to the left of Wilkinson) and Raman Sandhu (to the left of Ford) encourage their classmates to sign an anti-bullying pledge and buy wrist bands to bring awareness to the issue of bullying at Concord High; Tuesday, February 11, 2013. Wilkinson, Ford, and Sandhu are all officers in Concord High School's anti-bullying club which Wilkinson started in October 2012 after a series of anonymous tweets that targeted students at Concord High made her feel like students should be doing more to stand up against bullies at her school.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

  • Maria Wilkinson, a sophomore at Concord High School, hands out an anti-bullying pledge to her classmates; Tuesday, February 11, 2013. Wilkinson hopes that by encouraging her classmates to sign an anti-bullying pledge and buy anti-bullying wrist bands that she will help bring awareness to the issue of bullying at Concord High. <br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Maria Wilkinson, a sophomore at Concord High School, hands out an anti-bullying pledge to her classmates; Tuesday, February 11, 2013. Wilkinson hopes that by encouraging her classmates to sign an anti-bullying pledge and buy anti-bullying wrist bands that she will help bring awareness to the issue of bullying at Concord High.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

  • Maria Wilkinson, a sophomore at Concord High School, sells wrist bands that say, "Take A Stand Against Bullying," to Alex Kamau, also a sophomore; Tuesday, February 11, 2013. Wilkinson hopes that the wrist bands, as well as an anti-bullying pledge that the students are signing will help bring awareness to the issue of bullying at Concord High. <br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Maria Wilkinson, a sophomore at Concord High School, sells wrist bands that say, "Take A Stand Against Bullying," to Alex Kamau, also a sophomore; Tuesday, February 11, 2013. Wilkinson hopes that the wrist bands, as well as an anti-bullying pledge that the students are signing will help bring awareness to the issue of bullying at Concord High.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

  • Astudent signs an anti-bullying pledge at Concord High; Tuesday, February 11, 2013. Sophomore Maria Wilkinson started Concord High's anti-bullying club as a way to raise awareness about the bullying that occurs at Concord High as well as to inspire students to take a stand against it.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Astudent signs an anti-bullying pledge at Concord High; Tuesday, February 11, 2013. Sophomore Maria Wilkinson started Concord High's anti-bullying club as a way to raise awareness about the bullying that occurs at Concord High as well as to inspire students to take a stand against it.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

  • Maria Wilkinson (right), a sophomore at Concord High School, Tyler Ford (to the left of Wilkinson) and Raman Sandhu (to the left of Ford) encourage their classmates to sign an anti-bullying pledge and buy wrist bands to bring awareness to the issue of bullying at Concord High; Tuesday, February 11, 2013. Wilkinson, Ford, and Sandhu are all officers in Concord High School's anti-bullying club which Wilkinson started in October 2012 after a series of anonymous tweets that targeted students at Concord High made her feel like students should be doing more to stand up against bullies at her school.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
  • Maria Wilkinson, a sophomore at Concord High School, hands out an anti-bullying pledge to her classmates; Tuesday, February 11, 2013. Wilkinson hopes that by encouraging her classmates to sign an anti-bullying pledge and buy anti-bullying wrist bands that she will help bring awareness to the issue of bullying at Concord High. <br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
  • Maria Wilkinson, a sophomore at Concord High School, sells wrist bands that say, "Take A Stand Against Bullying," to Alex Kamau, also a sophomore; Tuesday, February 11, 2013. Wilkinson hopes that the wrist bands, as well as an anti-bullying pledge that the students are signing will help bring awareness to the issue of bullying at Concord High. <br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
  • Astudent signs an anti-bullying pledge at Concord High; Tuesday, February 11, 2013. Sophomore Maria Wilkinson started Concord High's anti-bullying club as a way to raise awareness about the bullying that occurs at Concord High as well as to inspire students to take a stand against it.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

When Maria Wilkinson saw anonymous online bullying happening to Concord High School students at the beginning of the school year, she wasn’t content to sit by and watch it happen. She reported it to the administration and the students were eventually caught.

But Wilkinson, a sophomore, didn’t want just the Twitter bullying to stop – she wanted all bullying to stop.

“I was never affected by (the Twitter comments), but just reading the comments hurt me a lot because I could see how students thought about others,” she said. “It was just emotional, even though I wasn’t part of it.”

Wilkinson turned those emotions into action by starting “Everybody Love Everybody,” a club meant to put an end to bullying. After months of work, Wilkinson and her fellow club officers hosted an assembly about bullying Monday. Throughout the week, they asked students to sign a pledge against bullying during lunch and purchase blue bracelets that say “Take a Stand Against Bullying.” By Friday, there were almost 600 signatures, covering three banners that will be put up in the high school cafeteria.

“I would say that I’m a believer of karma; if you do a good deed, good will come to you,” Wilkinson told students at the assembly. “So next time you see a student being picked on, remember, they might not be able to stick up for themselves, but you can.”

During Monday’s assembly, Wilkinson and the club’s five other officers dismantled common misconceptions about bullying, such as the idea that

telling an adult will make it worse, and encouraged students to become positive bystanders and stop bullying when they see it happening. They also asked students to share their own stories about bullying and to share ideas for how to stop it.

Those ideas ranged from not laughing at a bully’s comments toward another, reaching out to the bully to see what’s causing their actions, and being nicer to students in other grades.

“Is it really necessary to go out of your way and make somebody’s day horrible?” one student asked.

That dialogue continued throughout the week, and Wilkinson said students came up to her and told her they wanted to join the club. The pledge students signed during lunch set out seven goals for students to follow to prevent bullying. The club will use some of the money raised from selling the bracelets to buy supplies to paint an anti-bullying mural in one of the high school hallways. Students in the club have also expressed interest in holding assemblies at the middle school and elementary schools, but no plans have begun with any of those schools.

The campaign against bullying is effective because it is student-run, said Anna-Marie DiPasquale, the club’s adviser and a social worker at the school.

“This is students teaching and talking to other students. When the adults step back and let the kids take over, it is powerful, because the kids are the experts in their own experience,” she said.

DiPasquale was the first adult to truly embrace Wilkinson’s idea and help her get it off the ground. Principal Gene Connolly was also instrumental in making the assembly successful, Wilkinson said.

She started by recruiting students from other clubs to be officers in Everybody Love Everybody. She got seniors Tyler Ford and Theodore Belanger from the Key Club, and seniors Raman Sendha and Hema Gautam and junior Reshika Subbakaran from the Be the Change club. Wilkinson also started a page on GoFundMe.com that raised $145 to help purchase the bracelets the club sold this week.

She also conducted a survey, which was passed out to students during their English classes, on bullying. She shared the results at the assembly, in the hope they would make students more aware of bullying both in school and online, and help victims to understand that they aren’t alone.

The survey showed, for example, that 45 percent of boys and 35 percent of girls said they’ve been bullied, 45 percent of boys and 38 percent of girls say they’ve witnessed bullying and stayed silent, and 85 percent of boys and 81 percent of girls said they have cyberbullied someone else.

“We all know, I know, Mr. Connolly knows, we’re better than this, and we can make a change,” Wilkinson said.

Everybody Love Everybody is far from Wilkinson’s only extracurricular activity. She’s on the varsity tennis team and a member of the Key Club, Model U.N., the Mathletes, Be the Change, Youth in Government and Student Government. She also shadows state Rep. Lenette Peterson, a Merrimack Republican, at the State House.

“She’s always been very proactive and confident,” said her mother, Denise Wilkinson.

Looking to the future, Wilkinson hopes to continue growing the club.

About 15 to 20 students have been showing up to the twice-monthly meetings, but the numbers will grow if the students who expressed interest this week show up. Just one student speaking out can make a change.

“A lot of people came up to me and said Maria’s been an inspiration,” DiPasquale said, “because she spoke out on something that’s a pretty scary topic.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @kronayne.)

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