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Landau Murphy, Pat White spread anti-bullying message

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In the packed gymnasium at Point Harmony Elementary School in Cross Lanes, hundreds of third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students sat cross-legged on the floor for a surprise assembly. The subject: School bullying.

Anti-bullying talks can be fairly humdrum, so school officials decided to jazz up Friday's event by having local celebrities deliver the message.

The hundreds of students erupted into shrieks of joy as Pat White, a professional athlete and former star quarterback at West Virginia University, and Landau Eugene Murphy Jr., crooner and winner of the NBC reality show "America's Got Talent," strode into the gym Friday afternoon to use their stardom to shed light on the serious problem.

"How many of you have ever been bullied?" Murphy asked the students.

Hundreds of hands shot up.

"Did any of you like it?"

Students shook their heads.

"That's it right there," said Murphy. "Treat other people with the same respect and kindness you want them to show you."

The sea of students at Point Harmony might not seem like a dangerous bunch, but hundreds of thousands of students throughout the nation have been victims -- and perpetrators -- of often-vicious student bullying.

"Bullying is running rampant, and if I can help to stop any of that, I'm going to do it," White said. "If we can talk to students early, then maybe we can nip it in the bud."

In late March, Dalton Walker, a sixth-grader at Princeton Middle School in Mercer County, killed himself after being mercilessly bullied in school, family members told WVVA in Bluefield. School officials said there were anti-bullying measures in place at the school, but many believe that to get to the root of the bullying problem, there must be a culture shift on the student level.

Murphy and White said they hoped to break down the stigma of "snitching" and encouraged students to speak up about their problems.

"If you're being bullied, go find an adult," Murphy told the students. "It doesn't mean you are weak or soft or whatever other negative word you want to use."

During the 2009-10 school year, 23 percent of public schools across the country reported that bullying occurred among students on a daily or weekly basis, according to the U.S. Department of Education. In 2009, about 28 percent of students between the ages of 12 and 18 reported being bullied at school.

On the state level, education officials have beefed up punishments for bullying.

In December, the West Virginia Board of Education strengthened its anti-bullying rules, saying that bullying based on 13 categories including race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation qualifies as a Level 3 disciplinary offense. Punishments for harassment can range from detention to a 10-day suspension. The policy will go into effect July 1.

"We all know that students are targeted because of physical appearance, disability or perceived sexual orientation every day in schools all across West Virginia," Bradley Milam, executive director of Fairness West Virginia, said in an earlier interview. "This policy will ensure that these kinds of bullying incidents and many others will decrease. This could make all the difference in the world to students across West Virginia who are bullying victims."

At Point Harmony, Principal Beth Scott said she hopes Friday's talk will change some students' minds about bullying. This past year, there were only two disciplinary actions for bullying among the 600 elementary students, but even that is too many, she said.

"It was great for the students to hear that they should stand up for themselves and tell an adult about bullying so we can take care of it," said Scott, "because we can't do anything unless students tell us.

"No one should be bullied."

Reach Amy Julia Harris at amy.harris@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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