RICHFIELD, Minn. — Many Minnesota kids are already off for MEA weekend, but those who were in school Wednesday may have experienced "Unity Day," a day when students nationwide wear orange for bullying prevention.
At Centennial Elementary, fifth graders like Amayrani Hernandez Caute didn't leave it at that.
She and her peers hosted a special assembly for the school's second and third graders, teaching them what bullying means, how to handle it, and what can happen as a result. Hernandez Caute says she was in second grade when she got a real example of what it means when another student repeatedly bullied her.
"When I got home, I started crying really bad," she said. "I started avoiding her. Like, I went on hallways that she wouldn't be in."
According to PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center, "students who are both targets of bullying and engage in bullying behavior are at greater risk for both mental health and behavior problems than students who only bully or are only bullied."
Located in Bloomington, PACER offers important resources for families and schools nationwide. The nonprofit also started "Unity Day" to encourage students to wear orange on the third Thursday of each October as a way of showing solidarity and hope.
Leading up to Centennial's assembly, students schoolwide took a bullying prevention pledge and decorated the building in messages of kindness.
"Every class did a paper chain," fifth grader Ilah Gerster explained. "They did some in different languages, too, to just show that Centennial is kind."
PACER has helped bring this type of programming to schools since 2010 and says school-based bullying prevention programs can decrease bullying by up to 25%.
"Kids do come forward," Centennial social worker Phil Rooney said, "whether it's because they think a peer's experiencing it or they're experiencing it."
Hernandez Caute says when she was bullied, she told her mom, who contacted school leaders.
"There's this student government thing that I'm trying to join," the now fifth grader said. "I just want to say, 'Just because you're being bullied, that doesn't mean that you should give up on wearing what you want, or eating what you want or being what you want.'"
The federal government began collecting data on school bullying in 2005. In Minnesota, former governor Mark Dayton signed an anti-bullying bill into law on April 9, 2014.
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