CRESTVIEW — Seeing a Riverside Elementary School student harass a classmate is what spurred fifth-grader Carson Caldwell into action.
“There was a child that was being pretty mercilessly harassed, for lack of a better word,” Assistant Principal Kelli Sanders said.
The bullied child had not reported the incidents to school staffers, who only learned of the problem when the student started having a high absentee rate.
“We hate that we don't always know, but kids don't want to be a snitch,” Sanders said.
Carson, on the other hand, witnessed it.
"There was bullying going on in the school," he said. "There's been physical contact. I've been told some harsh words."
And he decided to do something about it.
In mid-February, Carson approached the school administration and, with its guidance, formed an anti-bullying club.
Bullying often occurs in physical education class, Carson said. One method includes the “slap box” game, in which the aggressor targets a student with a stitched "box" on the back of his or her shirt — an outline of the manufacturer's tag — and slaps the victim's back.
The "cheese touch" method, common in the lunchroom, involves ostracizing a classmate whom students declare has a form of cooties described in Jeff Kinney’s book "Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” Touching moldy cheese triggered the name in the book, which explains that students with the “cheese touch” are outcast until they touch someone else and spread the imaginary germ.
Okaloosa County Schools’ Student Codes prohibit physical violence; sexual, religious or racial harassment; threatening; cyberbullying or cyberstalking; and other actions that compromise a student’s right to a “safe, secure and equitable environment.”
Punishment can range from positive behavioral interventions to suspension and expulsion, according to the disciplinary policy.
To report bullying, Carson and his club placed a "Bully Box" in Riverside's media center.
"If you're shy or scared to tell somebody, you can (anonymously) put a form in the box," he said.
Club members have brainstormed other ways to combat bullies and draw attention to the issue.
In addition to preparing a skit for the school's "Morning Show" closed-circuit TV program, they plan to invite visitors to address the club.
With the assistance of his mother, Michele Caldwell, Carson designed recruiting posters for the club. Recently, he hanged some in the school hallways, and then checked the Bully Box for submissions.
When he saw the box was empty, he smiled.
"I hope we don't get any," Carson said. "I think it's beginning to get better. Kids are getting together in a group, thinking of ideas to prevent bullying.
“I hope we stop bullying."
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.