Matthew Sanchez says he used to be a bully. He would stand by as other students were bullied and say nothing. Things have changed for the 14-year-old eighth grade student at Eddy Middle School.
Matthew is the author of an anti-bullying petition that he is working to get students at the school to sign.
At a special anti-bullying program Tuesday afternoon at the south Columbus school, Matthew was chosen to release 100 multi-colored balloons, a symbolic way of letting go of negativity at Eddy. It was called a rainbow of hope.
"The whole key is love," Matthew said about stopping bullying.
He said he used to be mean but "learned better."
Recently, a friend of his was a victim of bullies. "Hurt my friend, you hurt me," Matthew said. He said someone who is being bullied must tell somebody and get help.
The program at the school was the idea of guidance counselor Michelle Sanchez, who is not related to Matthew. The planning began two months ago.
There was a session for each grade level at the school of approximately 425 students.
"Bullying is like an epidemic. Not just at Eddy, but across the nation. Bullying is not new but there are new ways of doing it," she said, referring to the Internet. "We really try so hard to stop every bullying situation at the beginning but some fall through the cracks."
She said parents must help by noticing signs that their child might be a bullying victim. Is that child coming home irritable, not eating, acting depressed? Sanchez said that 165,000 children in this country stay home from school each day because of bullying.
In the program, the students were shown news footage about bullying victims who had committed suicide.
"This is not reality TV. This is real," she told those gathered.
As for children who might be the victim of a bully, she said, "suicide is not the answer. There is no return."
She talked to the students about sympathy, empathy and compassion.
"Nobody should get pleasure out of somebody else's pain," she told the students.
A banner hanging in the Eddy cafeteria features the signatures of students. It reads: "It Gets Better Today. Stop the Bullying."