MONROE - Bullying was a life-changing event for Rob Holladay.
He grew up in Oklahoma with a stuttering problem and was taunted until he reached high school, when he overcame the speech impediment.
Mr. Holladay then became the person he hated the most.
"I became a bully myself," he told sixth-graders at Monroe Middle School last week in a program designed to discourage youngsters from bullying.
Mr. Holladay, of Tulsa, Okla., combined magic and card tricks with humorous anecdotes from his childhood.
In addition to sixth-graders, the school's seventh and eighth-grade classes attended the talk, which addressed issues of self-esteem, goal-setting, and respect for others.
"You are somebody. You have a purpose," he said.
According to experts, victims of bullying are at greater risk than their peers of skipping school, dropping out, getting lower grades, and bringing weapons to campus. Some of those who are abused become introverted or depressed.
Mr. Holladay, 39, also said it is "cool" to defend classmates when they are bullied. "Don't leave friends hanging," he said.
It's also cool, he said, to tell somebody - teachers, parents, guidance counselors - before it gets out of hand.
"If I can laugh at it, then I can live with it. But, when it becomes to the point that it is no longer funny, go to an adult," he said.
In an interview, Mr. Holladay said that studies show that about 66 percent of children who were bullies went on to serve time in jail before they reached the age of 24.
As for the victims, the treatment they receive from bullies may haunt them for the rest of their lives, he said.
Monroe Schools, like many districts in the state, has a policy that calls for disciplining students who engage in bully-type behavior.
A bill in the Michigan legislature aimed at stopping bullying in schools was introduced last year and passed in the state House, but has languished in the Senate Education Committee.
The bill is named Matt's Safe School Law after Matt Epling, an East Lansing Schools student who killed himself in 2002 after a school hazing incident. It would require local schools to adopt rules prohibiting bullying.
The American Family Association of Michigan opposed the legislation because of protections in the bill against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression.
Ryan McLeod, principal at Monroe Middle School, said the message given by Mr. Holladay fits well with the school's character education program in which students learn people skills, problem solving, listening, teamwork, leadership, and citizenship skills.
"We are trying to be proactive in addressing the bullying issue before problems happen, and instead of waiting until after the problems happen," he said.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2005, 28 percent of students ages 12 to 18 reported being bullied in the previous six months, which is double from four years earlier.
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