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Penn State Student-Athletes Step up to End Bullying

by and on April 23, 2013 12:27 PM

Nearly 40 Penn State student-athletes joined forces with Lady Lion Gizelle Studevent to take action against what has become a national epidemic — bullying.

They call themselves Penn State Athletes Take Action, or PSATA for short. And their mission is simple: Put a stop to the bullying that takes place in our elementary, middle and high schools.

Studevent and her fellow athletes spoke to students at Mount Nittany Middle School in State College on April 12. As she walked through the halls in her No. 25 Lady Lion uniform, she made sure to get her message across loud and clear — bullying can no longer be tolerated.

“This is really important for these students. Bullying is a big issue right now,” said Studevent. “These kids look up to athletes. I wanted to let them know that even we've been bullied. We know what it's like. We want to send the message that it's wrong.”

Bullying is an issue that hits close to home for Studevent. She was a victim of bullying during middle school while growing up in Southern California.

“That's where the motivation came from. I feel like I'd be letting society down if I didn't share my stories. I've been through it and I know what it does to kids. I'm telling them to stand up to it and make a difference,” she said.

When it comes to bullying in the United States, the numbers are staggering. According to the PSATA, studies have shown that an estimated 160,000 students miss school every day in the United States due to fear of an attack or intimidation.

Bullying often results in fear, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. A startling 77 percent of students admit to being a victim of one form of bullying or another. Of that 77 percent, 14 percent suffer severe effects from the abuse.

While bullying occurs in every grade, studies show that it tends to get worse as students enter middle school.

Mount Nittany Middle School assistant principal Mark Feldman was pleased that the school was the first stop for the Penn State student-athletes.

“I think it's awesome for our entire student body to be a part of this initiative and part of this endeavor. We really emphasize our anti-bullying efforts at the middle school level,” Feldman said.

“To have the Penn State athletes come in and put a face to it and to have the kids hear some of their stories … for them to be able to interact with them, it just really builds a sense of community here in the middle school.”

One of the many messages that the student-athletes were trying to get across to the middle school students was that bullying of any type is not acceptable. Bullying comes in many forms, making it a difficult subject for school administrators to get a handle on.

According to Feldman, social networks have taken bullying to new levels.

“I think social media has brought a whole new dimension to it. Now, it's not just the schoolyard bully anymore,” Feldman said. “We are seeing things, whether they be on Facebook or other forms of social media. It just adds a whole new dimension to what we're dealing with on a daily basis. We don't monitor it, per se, but if issues are brought to our attention that affect students when they walk into our building, then we look at it as a school issue. We do deal with those.”

Studevent said that technology has opened the door to new forms of bullying.

“Technology is a great thing for a lot of reasons. On the downside, it provides an opening to reach more people and bully them,” she said. “With cell phones, it's easier to get in contact with people and say mean things. That's why we're here — to say it's wrong.”

At Friday's event, there were plenty of activities throughout the school to keep the students engaged. The main event was a dodgeball tournament taking place in the gymnasium. In the cafeteria, a pizza party was being held while music played. At classrooms throughout the school, there were exercises taking place to get students to interact and talk with the student-athletes. In the hallways, some athletes signed autographs while others played ping pong with the students.

Nearly every Penn State sports team was represented at the event.

Alex Witt, a member of the Penn State women's gymnastics team, felt that it was important to represent her squad.

“It's a great cause. We decided as a team to do this because we'd never been involved with anything like this,” Witt said. “It was a great opportunity to help the cause. Rather than trying to overcome it, Gizelle is trying to prevent it. The goal here is to stop it before it even starts.”

Although there was plenty of fun being had in the hallways, classrooms and gymnasium, the message from Studevent and her fellow athletes was heard loud and clear by the Mount Nittany Middle School students.

Spencer Perry, a sixth grade student at the school, felt the event was a step in the right direction.

“This is a nice school and there aren't too many bullies,” Perry said. “I've seen some bullying, not a lot. But this is going to help. It's definitely going to make students feel better.”

For more information about PSATA, visit www.psata.org.



This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.


Chris Morelli is the managing editor of The Centre County Gazette.
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