Yarmouth students use purple power to fight bullying

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YARMOUTH — It was difficult to find someone not wearing purple at Yarmouth High School last Friday.

Whether it was a shirt, a hat, or a band of fabric tied around an arm, almost everyone was wearing the color. One girl was purple from head to toe.

The students, and almost every teacher and faculty member, wore purple Jan. 16 to draw attention to a student-led anti-bullying campaign. For the past few years, members of the sophomore class have held Wear Purple Day in an attempt to unify the school and make students feel secure.

“It seems like a small thing, but it really helps create a big impact,” sophomore Gracie Griffin said.

According to Assistant Principal Josh Ottow, 76 percent of students wore purple this year, up from 40 percent on Wear Purple Day in 2014.

The campaign began in Nova Scotia in 2007, after a boy was bullied for wearing a pink shirt. To show support for him, other students began wearing pink. (Yarmouth students chose to wear purple, because freshmen wear pink on class colors day during spirit week.)

“There’s power in numbers and I definitely see that in Wear Purple Day,” sophomore Ravi Pateo said. “It makes people feel secure and I wanted to create that sense in the school.”

Yarmouth students made shirts with Ghandi’s face on them and the phrase “be the change,” from Ghandi’s quote “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Griffin said it represents what the group is trying to do with the anti-bullying campaign.

The student group behind the campaign, which originally had only eight members, had 30 this year. Ottow said sophomores run the campaign because bullying often happens to freshmen.

“When bullying happens, it happens more at the lower level,” Ottow said. “Sophomores know what it’s like as a freshman, so they can be role models for ninth-graders.”

Ottow said the students in the campaign group are “ambassadors for ninth-graders” and that the campaign can make students think twice before bullying someone.

“(Wear Purple Day) has a profound effect on all the school, but it has more of an effect on younger students,” he said.

Students in the campaign group said they want the entire school to be aware of the problem.

“I think it’s hard to go through high school and not see any kind of bullying,” Griffin said.

Some members of the group said they’ve experienced bullying themselves.

“I personally have experienced bullying and have seen it first hand, and no one should have to go through that,” Pateo said.

According to Ottow, bullying doesn’t occur too often at YHS, but it is still something administrators and teachers take very seriously.

“(The number of bullying incidents) varies year to year, but I’d say Yarmouth High School is slightly below average,” he said. “We have a positive culture that we really like to foster.”

When bullying does occur, Ottow said, teachers are quick to step in.

“Teachers often stop things before they get out of hand,” he said.

When more severe cases do occur, students are brought to Ottow and Principal Ted Hall. Their parents are called in, a solution is determined, and the students are then closely monitored, Ottow said.

The campaign group also has posters in all classrooms that Ottow said teachers refer to when necessary. The posters feature the same image of Ghandi from the purple T-shirts, plus three questions: “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it helpful?”

Ottow said the group’s dedication to the campaign sets a strong example for others to follow and shows their ability to be leaders.

“The group of students who chose to be part of this team have really stood up and chosen to become a leader in the school,” he said.

Ottow said he hopes having so many students wear purple and participate in the campaign will make bullied students feel supported.

“To walk through the halls and see three quarters of your classmates in support of you, that’s what it’s all about,” he said.

Sophomore William Saint-Amour said the campaign does more than reduce bullying.

“I feel personally that it not only helps eliminate bullying,” he said, “but it unifies the school.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Sidebar Elements

More than three-quarters of Yarmouth High School students wore purple on Jan. 16 as part of an anti-bullying campaign.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.