Friday Hundreds of students filled the gym at Essex High School to take a stand against bullying.
"I feel so very supported and loved, and I am just so gracious for all the help I've gotten from all the students," said Cole Peterson, an Essex High School freshman.
The all day sit-in comes in response to freshman Peterson's claims that he was beaten up over the weekend by two fellow students for being bi-sexual. "Random students that have attended this event, that I don't even know who they are, have just come up to me and hugged me and told me that they support me and I just feel really amazing about this," Peterson said.
Students spent the day participating in workshops addressing bullying, creating signs to show their support and sharing their own stories of bullying and being bullied. "We've learned about terms for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, transvestites. We're putting out a strong message that they're just human beings and they're not something to be against," said Thomas Titus, an Essex freshmen.
Essex High School principal Rob Reardon says he'll handle concerns over classroom attendance next week. He stresses Friday's sit-in is just a start to tackling bullying behavior on and off school grounds. "The bottom line is, students have the capability and the power to stop this behavior -- because this is 24-7, through the summer, on weekends, as well as being here at school," Reardon said.
Peterson and his classmates hope their day in the gym promotes tolerance and understanding across their school and around Vermont. "I think we are sending this to teachers, to other students and hopefully across the state -- that we don't like this, that we want it to stop," Titus said.
"I hope people take away that the student body at this school does not support bullying or harassment," Peterson said.
It's a simple message shared by hundreds, who learned that sitting in can mean standing up against bullying.
Essex Police say they interviewed more people Friday about the alleged bullying over the weekend and that their investigation is continuing.
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