WALKER — Student members of Walker High School’s Positive Leaders Against Destructive Decisions Club staged a 5K walk and run at the school’s football facility Oct. 14 to bring awareness of the problems associated with bullying.

The event was part of an expanded parishwide effort to help improve teenagers' lives by urging them to make positive decisions.

The Livingston Parish Students Against Destructive Decisions is headed by Dylan Ivy, who is managing the program on a full-time basis from the group’s central office at 115A South Hummell St. in Denham Springs. Ivy’s position and the central office are new to the parish. His employment was made possible through a grant from the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission and the office space was provided by Denham Springs city government. He said that he is working to establish a similar group in every school in the parish.

“Our goal is to try and get the SADD message across to all of our students. We especially want to place emphasis on the elementary and junior high grades because research has shown that positive behavior patterns start at an early age. If we can teach young children how to make positive decisions, those lessons should stay with them for life,” Ivy said.

Ivy has been associated with the group since his school days in Denham Springs. For the past several years, he has worked with now-retired Denham Springs High School teacher Elise LeBlanc at a summer program where the organization's message is delivered to young students.

SADD groups emphasize good decision-making in many areas, Ivy said, pointing out that their message encourages good character development, citizenship, information on the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, bullying, abuse of electronic devices, safe driving habits and even an awareness of the evils of human trafficking.

The SADD organization at Walker High has been in the forefront of the positive decision-making movement for the past several years, organizers said. The recent running event was designed specifically to bring awareness to the problems caused by bullying.

The group’s president, Ethan Bunch, said a survey of bullying at Walker High led to a decision to focus on making students aware of the dangers of bullying. That survey showed that 45 percent of the respondents said they had been bullied at some point in their school experience. Asked on the survey is they have seen others bullied, 79 percent answered “yes.” Of those surveyed, 29 percent admitted that they had bullied another student at some point during their school years.

“It’s a national issue,” Ethan said, pointing out that a recent survey showed that every seven seconds a child is beaten up or bullied somewhere in the nation. The survey also showed that 5.4 million students skip school at some point because they feared being bullied.

Members of the group decided on the run and walk event at the suggestion of senior member Stacey Gill, who said she came upon the idea that if a person is engaged in running or walking together as a group they have time to reflect on how bullying can be hurtful.

“You are here for a purpose and not only do you learn a lesson while participating, you bring attention to a problem that needs to be addressed,” Gill said. Further, she added, the run brought the community together to address a common problem.

Ivy said he was pleased with the “Stomp Out Bullying” event. “This was the first time one of our groups tried this, and we had 50 participants spanning three generations. It was a really good event,” he said.

Meagan Payne, Walker High School history teacher and the group's faculty sponsor, commended her students for their “Stomp Out Bullying” program. She said the event was just the latest efforts by the group to encourage positive decision making. The club has sponsored a program about distracted and impaired driving; has made presentations before the Parish Council and the Walker City Council; and has sent representatives to the “I Care” youth leadership conference where the student heard nationally recognized experts discuss leadership training and student motivation.

Payne said the survey on bullying was “quite revealing” and was an impetus to began an anti-bullying program. “Bullying is something of an underground problem, but it is something that the students are well aware of. I have to think that even the bullies realize it is wrong and that they may also be looking for help in stopping the bullying. Bringing awareness of the problem can only help,” she said.

Payne said cyberbullying has become much more prevalent than traditional bullying because the bully can remain anonymous.

“If an actual act of physical bullying takes place, the school can quickly react and resolve the problem. However, with cyberbullying, there’s not much you can do about it. I hear about cyberbullying almost every day, and on one occasion, it caused a problem right in my face in the classroom. Children are getting phones at an earlier and earlier age and the dangers of misusing that phone is growing more widespread," she said.

Payne said hazing is not a problem on high school campuses and she has not heard of any hazing incidents.

“Cliques can also be a source of bullying and group bullying can be even more vicious. Cliques have been part of the high school scene forever and they only thing that can be done is to encourage members of such groups to treat others fairly,” she said.

Bunch said members of the club began studying bullying in September, which is national Anti-Bullying Month. “We decided that it was time to do something to shine the spotlight on the problem of bullying and we are pleased with the results,” he said.

The run and walk event was sponsored by several local businesses and members of the club, assisted by parents and friends. Members of the club sold sweets and jambalaya at the run to raise some funds for future activities.

“We challenge other SADD clubs in the parish to come up with ideas similar to PLADD’s run to show the public that our groups are dedicated to improving the lives of students through positive thinking and action. Events such as the run today can only contribute to better experiences for our students. School years are a very special time in the lives of everyone and those years should be marked by great, positive experiences, not the negative things that can result when poor decisions are being made,” he said.