HNHS senior takes anti-bullying message to young students

Huntington North High School senior Molly Smith (left) talks to fifth-grade students at Lancaster Elementary School during a convocation held Monday, May 16, about how to deal with bullies. Smith used lessons from her own life experiences to teach the students how to recognize bullying, make friends with kids who bully and develop their own self-confidence.
Huntington North High School senior Molly Smith (left) talks to fifth-grade students at Lancaster Elementary School during a convocation held Monday, May 16, about how to deal with bullies. Smith used lessons from her own life experiences to teach the students how to recognize bullying, make friends with kids who bully and develop their own self-confidence. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Originally published May 26, 2016.

Molly Smith is a reformed bully.

Not that her career as a bully was a long one – in fact, it was quite short. She loathed what she had suddenly become when she recognized it for what it was.

“When I was in fifth grade, I and my friends started a rumor about a girl in our grade,” she explains. “We told everyone that she had lice in her hair, so no one could be around her because she had lice. That was really mean, and we didn’t realize that we were bullying at the time, but our teacher told us how mean it was, and we were so hurt by that – the fact that we hurt her. We saw how much it hurt her and impacted her.

“So from that, I never forgot that moment, because I hurt that girl’s feelings so much, and I didn’t want to do that to anyone.”

Smith has been on the receiving end of bullying as well, after she was sidelined by a gymnastics injury and felt rejected by some of her closest friends.

In another incident, at school, someone wrote “gay” on the locker next to hers, which belonged to a boy who had been bullied.

“It made me so sad for him, because he’s one of those kids that gets picked on,” she observes. “I couldn’t stand how no one had done anything. It was up there for like a week.”

The Huntington North High School senior has bottled her personal experiences and turned them into a community service project, taking her story to fifth graders getting ready to enter the uncertain, sometimes scary world of middle school and adolescence.

Smith visited five of the six elementary schools last week to pass along her wisdom from a fellow student’s perspective. The only school she did not reach, Flint Springs, was unable to give her any convocation time due to scheduling conflicts.

“When you say something to someone, or you think about doing something, remember that it can hurt someone,” she admonished a group of fifth graders at Lancaster Elementary School during a convocation held Monday, May 16. “You’ll remember it for a long time, and they’ll remember it for a long time.”

Smith says kids should think about what they’re going to say about someone before the words come out of their mouths.

“Think about three questions: Is it true? Is it kind? And is it a necessity?” She adds that even if something is true, it may not be kind; make sure all three questions are answered “yes” before saying something, she tells them.

If kids find themselves on the receiving end of bullying, Smith has some advice for them: your reaction shapes you.

From her bag Smith took out two rough-sawn blocks of wood and enough sandpaper squares to go around the room. She quickly got the students’ attention.

Kids took turns using sandpaper to smooth out the rough spots on the wood, creating a visible example of how bullying (the sandpaper) can actually work to shape, smooth out and polish the character of the bullied (the wood), making it better.

“If you are getting bullied, remember that you can overcome this, and the way that you react to some things is going to shape you and your future,” Smith told them, “so make sure that you remember that no matter what, you’re good enough, you’re strong enough and you’re smart enough, and that you guys are awesome – each and every one of you is awesome, and you’re going to do awesome things.

So if a bully ever tries to tell you that you’re not awesome, you can’t believe them … What they say is not true, unless you believe it.”

Smith’s young age and her testimony that she’s “been-there-done-that” was not wasted on the students, as they sat transfixed during her short presentation. It was evident by a quick poll that they have already seen – or been the victims of – bullying incidents from other children. They may have heard the message before, but Smith’s message encouraged them to believe in themselves and offered some practical steps they can take to keep the power over their lives.

Smith also challenged the kids to try and make friends out of a would-be bully.

“Friendship is the most important thing, because sometimes bullies don’t have very many friends, so that’s why they’re bullies, because no one has shown them care or love,” she says. “You need to be a good friend, and be a friend to the bully, even if they’re mean to you – kill them with kindness.”

She also says kids need to stick together and be friends with each other, telling a teacher or other adult if their friend is being bullied.

At the end of the convocation, students signed a banner, which will be posted at their respective schools, showing their support of anti-bullying efforts.

Smith receives a community service credit at Huntington North High School for her program, which requires 48 hours of work. She began the project last July, logging 25 hours by the end of summer and countless hours since them.

“I really wanted to do something community service-wise before I left (high school), because my mom always told me to leave someplace better off than you found it,” she explains. “I wanted to make a big change to Huntington before I left for college.”

By practicing some salesmanship and setting up a GoFundMe donation account online, Smith managed to raise a little more than $400, which she used to purchase banners, markers, sandpaper and candy for the students. Her program was sponsored by Bippus State Bank, Teachers Credit Union, Trophy Center Plus, iAB Bank and First Federal Savings Bank.

As she presented her program to the fifth graders of Huntington County, she received some feedback from students, several of whom thanked her for speaking to them. Some related bullying experiences of their own, in perhaps a cathartic expression of how they related to her talk. Smith says it was a neat experience seeing how many of the kids were impacted by her words and encouragement.

“This one girl had been bullied all during first semester, and now she’s friends with the bully,” Smith recalls. “One girl asked, ‘What happens if you’re getting bullied by someone in a lower grade?’ I told her just to kill her with kindness and set a good example to the girl. But she obviously would have been bullied if she asked that question.”

Huntington County Community School Corporation Superintendent Randy Harris said he was so impressed with Smith’s enthusiasm to get her message across that he wrote a letter of recommendation on her behalf. She then met individually with each of the elementary school principals before setting up the convocation dates.

“I really can’t give the credit to anything other than Molly and her initiative to do something like this for the kids,” Harris says. “This is an endeavor of passion that Molly has, and I commend her on it.”

Harris says the issue of bullying in school is not just for fifth graders, but they need a recognizable voice to bring the message home.

“It’s something that’s important for all of our kids to hear – what to do if they get in that situation, or how not to be the bully, how to deal with all these,” he says. “It’s something we stress K to 12 anymore, but to hear from somebody closer to their age who maybe relates to them a little better than the adults, I think probably helps.”