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When National Honor Society members from the Belle Fourche High School asked a third-grade class at South Park Elementary to raise their hands if they had ever been bullied, nearly all of them put their arms up. 

As a part of Unity Day through Pacer's National Bullying Prevention Center, the Belle Fourche school district addressed that concern by wearing orange in the elementary schools and openly talking about the problem. 

Instead of focusing just on the negatives that come along with bullying, elementary principal Jennifer Roberts said last week the focus was on positives students can incorporate, such as being a good friend if they see bullying happen. 

Getting the whole district involved, middle school staff also wore orange and National Honor Society members from the high school spoke to classes at the elementary school. They also helped each elementary student create an orange paper chain link with good things they have done for others written on the paper. 

The chain links were then connected with each other's pieces to create one long chain.

The idea for Wednesday was sparked by Cal Erhart, transportation coordinator for the district. He saw an article about national bullying prevention month, which is October, in a transportation magazine through the bus company. 

"If we put this cause to the right level and make a difference in suicide rates along from bullying and make a difference of one or two, it's well worth it," he said.

Pacer reports there is a strong association between bullying and suicide-related behaviors, but this relationship is often mediated by other factors, including depression and delinquency.

The organization also says that youth victimized by their peers were 2.4 times more likely to report suicidal ideation and 3.3 times more likely to report a suicide attempt than youth who reported not being bullied.

Not only did Erhart manage to get the district involved by working with Roberts, he also was able to involve the Belle Fourche community by getting more than $1,000 in donations to buy each student a shirt.

"The community got really behind these kids and this cause," said Erhart, who is in his 29th year with the transportation department. 

At 1 p.m. last Wednesday, approximately 550 kindergarten through 4th grade students, all in their orange shirts, also joined together to form a 250-foot-long human banner in the bus loading area. An airplane flew over to get video and photos.

Jim and Val Anderson with the Belle Fourche Airport donated the time and fuel and flew the airplane, and aerial photographers were Susie Gross and Sheila Erhart. 

Fourth graders Sarah Huelofs, 10, and Natalie Harris, 10, both learned valuable lessons during the morning presentations. 

Natalie said she learned to think before she speaks and to stick up for someone if they see bullying happen. 

Sarah also learned the importance of telling a teacher if she sees something happen. Sarah said she hasn't seen bullying happen in the district before, but Natalie knows first-hand how much bullying can hurt. 

"I've been bullied before," Natalie said. "It's a terrible thing to do." 

Physical education teacher Theresa Adel said there hasn't been any major bullying taking place in the elementary schools, but also encouraged students to let teachers know, because the small incidents could lead to bigger problems. 

Senior KeAnna Ward echoed that sentiment. She was one of the high-schoolers to present to the elementary students. She said it's an important issue to tackle at a younger age before things go too far. 

The older students get, the more mental bullying can become, Ward said.

But there's also "more fight in you at an older age," said senior Brady Leverington. Leverington also presented to the elementary students. "It's more severe when they can get a reaction out of you." 

Roberts also said bullying doesn't always happen to younger children because someone is trying to make themselves feel better, but can also happen because of poor social skills or immaturity. 

Days like Wednesday, she said, bring these things to mind and increase awareness. 

"You love to see the kids get involved and get excited about something like this," she said. "It really impresses you when you see them all walking through the halls wearing orange." 

Shirt sponsors include: Bickle's Truck and Diesel, K and K Kustoms, Gillette Fence Manufacturing, NAPA Auto Parts of Belle Fourche, SRK Farms (Ron Keil), Bunny's Body-Collision Repair, Frontier Glass of Belle Fourche, Habeck Trucking, Inc., American Colloid Company, Leverington Funeral Home of the Northern Hills, Tri-State Chiropractic Center and Fast Break Sports. 

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Contact Emily Niebrugge at 394-8419 or emily.niebrugge@rapidcityjournal.com

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