BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Viktor's ongoing Quest to S.T.O.P. Bullying recently took the Vikings mascot to the Mall of America, where he was joined by others who are united against bullying.
Viktor led two sessions for groups of students from Hilltop Elementary in Inver Grove Heights with help from Bloomington-based PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center and support from Verizon's HopeLine program. Viktor's quest is year-round, but was further elevated this month because October is National Bullying Prevention Month.
"Through our great partnership with Verizon and PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center, we are excited to be involved in this program for our second year to stress bullying prevention in elementary schools in Minneapolis-St. Paul and beyond," said Lester Bagley, Vikings Executive Vice President – Public Affairs and Stadium Development. "This interactive school assembly empowers students to put an end to bullying in schools, and foster a safe and healthy environment."
Viktor was joined by Vikings Cheerleaders Danielle and Kayla, who served as masters of ceremony for the interactive assemblies that explained to students how to S.T.O.P. bullying. The acronym displayed on purple stop signs stands for:
Stand up to bullying.
Take appropriate action.
Open up to an adult.
Protect yourself and others.
"Bullying impacts more than 13 million American students every year," said Paula Goldberg, Executive Director and co-founder of PACER Center. "We are excited to work with Verizon and the Minnesota Vikings to show students in Minnesota how to identify and stop bullying to make their schools and communities safer."
Vikings kicker Blair Walsh, Vikings Cheerleaders Mariah and Lauryn and "Voice of the Vikings" Paul Allen greeted the students via video connections to help deliver messages on how to identify types of bullying and prevent it.
The four types of bullying are:
- Verbal (direct use of words)
- Social (leaving someone out or spreading rumors)
- Physical (use of force or intimidation)
- Cyber (executed via social media or text messages)
Brandon Clemens, Vikings marketing coordinator, said the growth of social media has had an effect of eliminating a "safe haven" that once existed away from the physical location of the in-person bullying. Organizers, however, have PACER'S online resources to counter bullying tactics. PACER has sites that are geared toward young people*and information to assist parents*.
"I think the difficult part for all of us to tackle is getting away from the 'kids just being kids' mentality," Clemens said. "There's teasing that can happen. Teasing happens maybe once or twice. We stress that bullying is a repeated behavior, being picked on repeatedly, and what PACER tries to do is address it on the front end before it becomes a larger issue."
Hilltop Elementary Assistant Principal Quennel Cooper said the message was important for the students and well-received.
"That's really important for young people to hear, especially with all the different steps for how to prevent bullying," Cooper said. "I think they'll be really encouraged to stop bullying. Now that they know that bullying can happen in more than one way, I think with this, they're motivated and listened to what Viktor and the Cheerleaders had to say."
YouTube sensation Bethany Mota, who has been featured in TIME Magazine, a guest on the* DeGeneres Show* and by other major media outlets capped "Together Against Bullying Day" by sharing her personal experiences with bullying by participating in a Q&A.
"I know what it feels like when you kind of assume that no one knows what you're going through and you can't relate to anybody," Mota said. "I definitely want to be that person that I wished I had to look to when I was going through my situation."