8th-graders turned activists challenge negativity online
By Eduardo Barraza
September 12, 2016
Arizona) –– As more children are becoming active on social media at a
younger age than ever, the risks of the online world are also
come in the form of cyberbullying or hate speech and they generate a
hostile environment for Internet users of all ages, but younger people
are more vulnerable and exposed to adverse consequences.
there is another kind of risk, one not too many people are willing to
take, particularly young people: taking the risk to confront
cyber-bullying and negative online comments.
precisely the risk junior high students Betsy Hughes and Kenzie McKallor
are taking as they have decided to challenge, in a positive way, the
negativity they see on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram.
“We just noticed a lot of negativity going around on the online
community, mainly over social media, and we decided we wanted to change
that,” said Hughes.
13-year-olds began to talk among themselves about online negativity,
they discovered they share equal thoughts and feelings, and both felt
prompted to take action.
much negativity right now, especially at our age,” said McKallor.
“There's people that just bring each other down online. We want to do
something positive for everybody.”
McKallor, both 8th-graders at South Valley Junior High, began to notice
that many of their friends were making good online decisions, but others
weren’t. That’s when they decided to act and do something about it.
“We came together one day and said: Hey! I don't think this is right,” said Hughes.
took their first step last spring by approaching their school principal,
Tim Cannon, who was receptive to the teenagers’ concern. He threw his
support behind the youngsters since day one, and encouraged them to talk
more about it.
actually came to me; we talked and they said that they would like to do
something,” said Cannon. “I was really excited for them.”
A positive online campaign is born
vacation and as the new school year approached, Hughes and McKallor
geared up to launch a new online campaign called “Posting the Positive.”
In the pure spirit of young activism and with Cannon’s input, their idea took shape and produced a website, a logo and a video.
By August 3,
the first day of the 2016-2017 school year, the campaign was in motion,
and ready just in time to have prime exposure, as a school bus tour
planned by the Gilbert Public Schools district office was scheduled to
make its first stop at South Valley.
kick in the school year, Gilbert’s Superintendent Christina Kishimoto,
along School Board members, elected officials and community and business
leaders, rode a school bus to visit a handful of schools —including
South Valley— on the first day of school.
visit, Hughes and McKallor had the opportunity to present their campaign
before Dr. Kishimoto, Gilbert’s Mayor Jenn Daniels, some School Board
members and other dignitaries.
allowed the students to get word out about the “Posting the Positive”
campaign on the very first day of school, and in front of key
visit, their video has been shown in school assemblies and in every
classroom. According to Cannon, the campaign’s message has been well
received by all school groups.
to watching the video, students were given a questionnaire to answer in
their own words what is the campaign’s message, and how they think they
can make the Internet safer. They were also asked to write a sample
positive post, just like the ones Hughes and McKallor are advocating
A campaign larger than one school
“Posting the Positive” campaign seems to be having the desired effect at
the local level, Cannon also acknowledges cyber-bullying and negative
comments are issues that everybody and every school is dealing with.
“I think this is going to be a beginning of something much bigger than South Valley,” said Cannon.
the “Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2015” survey (the most
recent available), cyber-bullying is distinct from bullying at school.
However, the study points out that “bullying at school might be a
pertinent context to understand cyber-bullying anywhere.”
the report, in 2013, a higher percentage of females than of males ages
12–18 reported being bullied at school during the school year. Also,
higher percentages of females than of males reported that they were made
fun of, called names, or insulted, were the subject of rumors and were
excluded from activities on purpose.
The survey analyzes 23 indicators, one of them being cyberbullying.
—the use of electronic communication to bully a person— includes
posting hurtful information on the Internet, having private information
purposely shared, being the subject of harassing instant or text
messages, threatening or insulting another student through instant
messaging, text messaging and e-mail, or while gaming or excluding the
Based on the
feedback Hughes and McKallor’s campaign has received, Cannon is
optimistic it can be piloted in other schools, not just locally but
that I’m getting is amazing,” said Cannon. “People are really excited
that somebody is willing to step up and do this. The faculty is very
excited that these students are taking these challenges, because it's
huge; we really don't know where it’s going to go.”
includes comments written by most of the more than 1,100 students who
attend South Valley and have watched the video.
“Be nice to people online,” reads one comment. “Don’t cyberbully or be mean to people when online.”
reads: “…show how you can make the Internet a better place…there is a
lot of drama and hate on social media, and it’s a good thing to try and
put some positive in there…”
McKallor have also realized the campaign can be replicated in other
schools, so they hope more young people will get involved.
campaign’s website states that it was started to help out South Valley
students, but that the intended purpose can extend far beyond.
want to get involved can begin by following the campaign’s Instagram or
Facebook accounts, using the hashtags #postingthepositive and #heart
when posting on social media, or by creating their own hashtags for
their particular school using #postingthepositive plus their school’s
initials at the end.
Students who want to join the campaign need to also have a vision similar to Hughes and McKallor’s.
want to see negativity online,” said Hughes. “We want people to have in
their minds that if they are about to post something online, they need
to see if a person will like it or if the person will be offended.”
When it comes to the role parents play in fighting cyberbullying, the teenagers agree that they must play an important role.
important for parents to be involved because kids can think they can do
whatever they want online,” said McKallor. “They need to know their
future can be affected by what they post.”
perspective, the same action is required whether a student is being a
victim of cyberbullying or an activist wanting to stop it, to fight a
risk taking another risk.
is: take a little bit of a risk; tell somebody,” said Cannon. “Kids need
to know that they can talk to adults. You can still be cool and be nice
for Hughes and McKallor taking that risk began by talking to the
school’s principal, a risk that is now encouraging hundreds of others to
start —as the campaign’s motto says— “changing the online community,
one positive post at a time.”
For more information on the “Positing the Positive” campaign, visit: http://postingthepositive.com/