Shive students learn about bustin' bullies

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Maggie Blackwell
Parents, students and friends of the Shive Elementary School community spent two days earlier this month bustin’ bullies.
Bully Buster Day was the brainchild of Shive’s School Improvement Team, comprised of teachers and parents. Shive Principal Zebbie Bondurant said last year’s end-of-year survey identified one or two children who had felt bullied. “One is too many,” Bondurant said. The School Improvement Team took this to heart and developed the recent event.
Students attended an assembly Jan. 9 that featured Gabrielle Ford and her dog, Izzy. Gabe and Izzy are from Fenton, Mich. They traveled to Rockwell to share their story with Shive students.
Gabe, a young adult, trained as a dancer throughout her childhood and teenage years. While in high school, Gabe was hit with a neuromuscular disease, Friedreich’s ataxia. The disease attacked her coordination, causing slurred speech and impairing her movement. Her dreams of becoming a ballerina were dashed. Even worse, her peers at high school bullied her.
Gabe became withdrawn. She became depressed, lost weight and curtailed her activities.
In an attempt to help Gabe regain a zest for life, her mother bought Gabe a dog, a coonhound named Izzy. Gabe was responsible for all of Izzy’s care.
Soon after coming to live with Gabe, Izzy developed an illness. Gabe poured her energy into helping her puppy live. Soon after, Izzy was diagnosed with a neuromuscular disease much like the one Gabe has.
Because of her illness, Izzy was not expected to live out her first year of life. Gabe just celebrated Izzy’s eighth birthday and looks forward to more.
Today, Gabe and Izzy travel the United States, sharing their story and asking young people not to bully others. Gabe and Izzy have appeared on the Today Show and Animal Planet. Cosmopolitan magazine is working on an article about them, and they will appear in the February issue of Guideposts magazine. Gabe’s new book, Still Dancing, is available in February.
Gabe identifies three parties to bullying: the bully, the victim, and the bystander. She urges the victim and the bystander not to stand by quietly. “Tell a grownup,” she urges. “Tell your parents, a teacher, tell someone who can make it stop.”
Students responded strongly to Gabe’s message. Some cried. Following her presentation, they lined up to speak to her and to pet Izzy, who is now carried in a red wagon.
“It made me sad but happy at the same time,” fourth-grade student Addi Bost said. “People were mean to her. She is just like us, but they were mean.”
Fifth-grader Kolby Fisher agreed. “She was real cool. I learned a lot about bullying. I will not bully.”
Michael Bramblett, also a fifth-grader, shared a personal insight. “When she talked about being bullied, I related because I was bullied when I was younger. She was right: Tell a parent. Don’t hide it. Tell the principal or someone.”
On Jan. 10, Gabe and Izzy returned to the Shive campus for more bully bustin’. In addition, puppets from Win-Win Resolutions in Greensboro engaged parents and children in bullying scenarios. The school provided Chik-Fil-A lunches for the crowd.
One attendee said, “It had an emotional impact on many adults as well as children.”
The Bully Intervention Team from Irwin Middle School brought posters and shared their tactics for handling bullies. Students and parents said they feel better knowing there is a program to address bullying.
Shive kindergarten teacher Frances Justice attended the event with her daughter, Annie, who attends Irwin, and son Jackson, a Shive fifth-grader.
“Gabe’s presentation went even further than Shive,” Justice said. “Sunday, I presented her story in the devotional at our high school youth group at church. Anna shared it at her CYC (middle school youth group) as well. The story keeps being told.”
The guidance office was busy Monday, Bondurant said, handling students who were motivated by the event and needed someone to talk to. Some seemed to confuse bullying with other forms of conflict, she said, but wanted to talk to someone.
The school will follow up the event with other similar programs, including “No Name-calling Week.”
For more information, visit