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Column

Stadalsky: 'Bear Down On Bullies' helps reinforce important message

Chicago Bears mascot Staley talks to students at Heritage Trail School about bullying as part of the Bears’ Bear Down on Bullies program.
Chicago Bears mascot Staley talks to students at Heritage Trail School about bullying as part of the Bears’ Bear Down on Bullies program.

Jake Sellmeyer is 12 years old and attends Minooka Junior High. He’s a nice young man. He studies hard and does well in school.

He has been in taekwondo since he was little and he has a great memory for all the moves and forms he has to remember. Jake also has autism.

For a long time now, Jake has been the victim of bullying from a group of kids in his Shorewood neighborhood. He and his 7-year-old sister, Sydney, have been repeatedly bullied over the past several years.

A group of neighborhood kids about Jake’s age repeatedly tease and mock them. He and Sydney have had things thrown at them, endured verbal abuse and once even physical abuse, said their dad, Scott Sellmeyer.

Since Scott has installed cameras around his property, the bullies keep their distance. But if the Sellmeyer kids are outside playing hoops in their own driveway, chances are there will be a group of kids nearby, pointing, whispering and staring at Jake and Sydney. Scott calls it the “hate stare.”

The kids only go to the neighborhood park along with another person. Never alone. In their own neighborhood.

Jake has learned to ignore the bullies over the years, but Sydney, just 7, says it makes her afraid sometimes.

Discussions with other adults have left Scott and his family frustrated. No laws have been broken and no one has been physically hurt – so far.

This is just one real-life example of the way bullying can hurt and intimidate others. Bullying was the subject of an assembly at Troy Heritage Elementary School recently.

Chicago Bears mascot Staley and his MC, Gaby Gonzales, came to the school to perform their program “Bear Down On Bullies,” and it was met with rave reviews by students and teachers a like.

With help from Gaby (Staley doesn’t speak, but oh does he dance), they talked to the kindergarten through fourth-grade kids about exactly the kinds of things that have happened to Jake and Sydney.

There are five kinds of bullies, Gaby and Staley said. There is the Big Mouth, who uses words and teases; the Hands-On bully, who pinches, hits and makes physical contact; the Butt-Out bully, who makes others feel like they don’t belong; the Cyberbully, who uses social media to harass others; and the All Around bully, who looks for any opportunity to make someone feel bad.

“They want you to think you don’t matter, but we all matter and we are all unique,” Gaby said.

They then talked about how bullies can make them feel, and the students eagerly used words like sad, scared, worried, left out, lonely, upset, depressed, uncomfortable, anxious and low self-esteem. These are words spoken by children between 5 and 10 years old.

They also talked about things the kids could do to stop bullying, including having good behavior themselves, lending a hand or making friends with someone who may be left out, letting their own friends know their bad behavior isn’t cool, standing up for what is right, and going to a trusted adult if they see bullying behavior.

“At the Chicago Bears, we believe the best thing to do is to say, ‘Stop,’ and walk away,” Gaby said.

The students got to play a trivia game with Staley, put on a little play for their peers and learn some very important things in the process.

Heritage Trail Principal Brooke Allen said this was the first time this type of program has been used at the school.

“It reinforces what we teach them here. We want bully-free schools,” Allen said. “We wanted a fun and engaging way to bring home the message.”

• Kris Stadalsky writes about people and topics in areas southwest of Joliet. Reach her at writestuff56@comcast.net.

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