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NOTHING COMICAL ABOUT BULLYING: Students get first look at special book

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By Stephen Thomas

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - Students at Shepherdsville Elementary may have fresh ink all over themselves...but don’t you dare pick on them!

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One day after Bullitt East High School held a seminar on dealing with bullying issues, Shepherdsville Elementary discussed the same topic with a far different approach.

The school was selected for the unveiling of a new comic book, “Rise Above!”, created by the Rise Above Social Issues Foundation, Inc.

The unveiling included a visit by Nancy Silberkleit, co-CEO of Archie Comics, Inc. Silberkleit visited Shepherdsville last year during a visit to Publishers Press, where the comics are printed.

“We wanted to launch this magazine in the school where many of the parents helped to make it happen,” Silberkleit said. “Let their kids’ eyes see this and celebrate it first. It was just the perfect place to do it.”

Rise Above! is featured by the Rise Above Social Issues Foundation, Inc. Silberkleit is the founder, publisher and CEO of the foundation.

Shepherdsville students were the first in the world to meet Erica Walters, the main character of the Rise Above! series. Erica is a student attending a new school where another student, Vanessa, decided to bully her.

A former teacher, Silberkleit said recent issues with bullying in schools, especially cyber-bullying, became the genesis of the story line. Cyber-bullying is part of the first book’s plot.

“Bullying is words and it’s actions that isolate a person,” she said. “You know what’s right and wrong and you know how to change that. (Bullying) is pain, loneliness and hurt. It’s the words. It hurts and it feels terrible.”

Silberkleit said the story features many other “bystander” characters who don’t receive a lot of focus. She said the idea was leaving a gray area for the reader, allowing for more independent thinking.

“Bystanders are the focus in stopping bullying,” she said. “Everyone can help to stop it with a little kindness. That’s a global concept. The bystanders in the story are not addressed to let the readers find out for themselves which will have the courage to step up. In this book a lot of thinking can happen. We want the kids to cultivate the knowledge themselves.”

As a nod to Publishers Press and Shepherdsville Elementary, a global map on the center pages of the comic book contains voice bubbles with words from throughout the world. Shepherdsville is the only voice listed from the United States.

“This is the gift of the specialness of Shepherdsville, Kentucky, to this book,” Silberkleit said.

During the assembly Silberkleit also publicly introduced the celebrity who volunteered to help promote the Rise Above! series, Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, who is pictured on the back cover.

“Reggie was very excited to see the comic book,” Silberkleit said. “He couldn’t hardly wait for the release.”

Bullitt County Safe and Drug Free Schools director Jaime Goldsmith also addressed the Shepherdsville students, urging them to implement both kindness and self-empowerment.

“If you’re kind, people don’t usually bother you,” Goldsmith said. “If they’re not, tell an adult.”

Goldsmith added that each individual student could make a difference in a bullying situation simply by how they react to it.

“Sometimes it just takes one person to stand up for somebody,” she reminded.

Future Rise Above! stories will include more bullying topics, including hazing. Silberkleit said many of the story ideas will be based upon public feedback.

A few of Shepherdsville’s students had their say involving the Rise Above! campaign. They were selected to read the story and discuss thoughts and ideas in a forum with Silberkleit.

Fifth grader Annie Hammad related to the story of Erica Walters. Hammad said she was similarly bullied in past years for being different. She liked the story’s lesson of how to deal with a bullying situation at school.

“I told (Silberkleit) that it was really neat to let people see how you are bullied and how the kids talked to a teacher and an adult about it,” Hammad said.

Hannah Walls, also a fifth grader, thought the story was a neat idea because Erica experienced a real-life situation of having braces and being teased.

“Other kids will get braces,” said Walls. “They won’t feel like the only one in that situation.”

“It was very mean of Vanessa to bully,” fifth grader Bryce Boerste said. “I didn’t think it was very pleasant.”

Boerste recalled being bullied in first grade and enjoyed the advice on how to handle future situations.

“I have zero tolerance for bullying,” he said. “I will stop it and offer encouragement (to the victim).”

Fourth grader Bradley Outland agreed that the story offered advice on handling bullies while also being entertaining to read.

“It’s unique to tell people not to bully,” he said. “If you’re being bullied, you’ll know how to handle it.”

Silberkleit added further advice to both adults and children about handling bullying.

“Talk to your kids,” she said. “You have to ask them how they are. Kids can stay busy, find what you like to do. Take that a step further and rise up. Do not let mean actions in your brain or your heart. Never let anyone define what they want you to be. Do not think that you are wrong. Find that spark inside of you...all of us have a voice.”