United online

GOWRIE – One of the first things students attending the Mean Stinks Biggest Assembly Ever anti-bullying rally at Prairie Valley High School got to do Wednesday was send an upload to their Twitter account.

Sophomore Miranda Keith sent a positive note.

“Mine said throw candy, not rocks,” she said.

Her friend Maria Towne, seated next to her, sent a picture.

“It’s a picture of us doing our pinky thing,” she said.

That pinky thing she is referring to is a blue-painted fingernail. The two locked their fingers together for the photo.

While several hundred students attended the rally in the school’s gym, students from seven other schools throughout the country joined the rally live via an Internet connection. Several hundred more schools watched the event without a live connection.

The Internet event was hosted by Alexis Jones, a female empowering expert, and Zendaya, a celebrity who uses a single name, who has appeared on “Dancing with the Stars.”

Jones related an incident from her own teenage years in which a group of fellow students made fun of her clothing.

“I don’t think those girls had any idea of how painful that was,” she said.

She still remembers an incident vividly, including hiding in a bathroom stall with her lunch tray.

“That’s the only time I’ve ever eaten in a bathroom,” she said. “My tears were splashing into my Tater Tots.”

Tamara Hanson, the counselor for the Prairie Valley seventh- to 12th-grade students, praised them as the rally got under way.

“We have some of the best students around,” she said before warning them they might not find the same positive environment elsewhere.

In a bullying situation, she said, a person can be one of three things.

“You’re either the bully, the bullied or a bystander,” she said. “We want to empower you to stand up against it.”

Later, Hanson said the Mean Stinks program is just one part of the school’s efforts to address bullying.

“We have a strong policy against it,” she said.

The students can file a complaint and the school will investigate it, she said. It’s behavior that simply isn’t tolerated.

Much of the bullying the students see isn’t physical, it’s mental and frequently done in cyberspace.

Miranda Towne has seen it happen, seen the result and seen what happens when the school responds to it.

“We’ve had people get in trouble,” she said. “You can hide, but can trace technology.”

Ciece Pearson has seen that too.

“It’s more on the internet,” she said.

Her friend, Hannah Miller, doesn’t want the problem ignored.

“It’s an important issue that needs to be talked about,” she said.

Hanson said the solution has to go beyond the halls of the school.

“It has to be society as a whole,” she said. “It has to be all of us working together.”

They were off to a good start after the rally.

Maria Towne was happy to report what happened to her messages.

“They’ve Tweeted a lot of mine,” she said.

One of those messages: “Let’s infect the world with kindness.”