MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - A new program in Montgomery Public Schools is geared at saving lives by exposing and stopping bullying.
A texting hotline has been set up for kids to use if they're a victim of bullying or know someone who is being targeted.
The Montgomery County District Attorney's Office partnered with MPS on the program called "Bullying Stops With Me."
District Attorney Daryl Bailey held a news conference Wednesday at Bellingrath Middle School to shed light on the new tool, designed to be efficient, effective and appealing to children.
All they do is text "nobully" to 444999 to get help.
"I'm committed to making sure children are protected and go to school in a safe environment," he said.
He cited statistics from the National Bullying Center, including the fact that one out of every five students report being bullied during their school career. Students that experience bullying are at a greater risk for academic problems, substance abuse, poor school attendance and mental health issues. They are two times as likely to commit suicide.
Fifty seven percent of bullying situations stop when there is some type of intervention. Sixty four percent of children who have been bullied failed to report it.
The district attorney and MPS officials want to overcome major challenges with bullying, which include getting children to report that it's going on and then once it's discovered, making sure there are proper resources in place to resolve the situation.
"Bullying stops with every child in our school system. That's what we want," Bailey said. "If they see bullying or they're being bullied, we want them to report it. What we're doing with this program is implementing a way to get to the kids where they are. We understand that kids are often reluctant to report bullying to a teacher or principal or parent."
With the texting program, kids can report bullying when they see it happening in their school or outside of school but they can also report it if they're being bullied as well.
Once they text "nobully" to 444999. they're going to get an automatic reply that asks for more information, like their name, their school and who the bully is and where they go to school.
That information will go to the district attorney, and he will send it to Helping Montgomery Families Initiative who is working closely with MPS.
"They have developed a protocol and plan on how to address these situations. We're going to go to the person who reported the bullying or the person who is being bullied and we're going to get more details from them. Then we're going to go to the bully. We're going to find out what's going on in their life that's causing them to bully," Bailey explained. "Research and experience tells me it's not just because they're mean."
During the news conference, Jennifer Sellers, from Pell City, shared her emotional story to illustrate the consequences of bullying
Her daughter, Sydney Dane Sellers, committed suicide on Dec. 7, 2014.
"My daughter was 14 when she killed herself by hanging," Sellers said. "I found her still hanging."
Sellers didn't know why her daughter took her life until she started receiving text messages from other students at her school the next day when they found out about what happened.
"I got texts from 150 kids who told me that my daughter had been bullied every day," she said. "The problem is, nobody ever told anybody about what was happening to her. it was common knowledge among the student body but nobody ever reported it. I didn't know. I couldn't intervene. The administration tells me they didn't know. They couldn't intervene."
She urged students to speak up if they are aware of a bullying situation.
"If you're being bullied or you know about it, you need to find someone to tell. After one of you is gone, it's just too late," she stated.
Sellers touted the texting hotline for MPS students to turn to.
"It gives kids the opportunity to get some help without having to put a big red flag over their heads and draw attention to themselves and that's important because issues like this can be very private," she added.
Shamya Singleton, a seventh grader, has witnessed bullying and has been bullied. She cried after the press conference as she voiced her support for the program.
"Some kids get bullied almost every day and this is a good idea. Most kids have phones so they will be able to text this number and explain what's happening to them," she said.
The district attorney says kids can use the texting hotline, as well as his office's social media handles: @montgomeryda on Facebook and @montgomery_da_darylbailey. They can also call the office at 334-832-2550.
"When you see bullying, stop it. Text us. Let us know that it's going on. When you're being bullied, seek out help. If it's not from the District Attorney's Office through our texting hotline or our other social media applications, go to your teacher or principal. Tell somebody. It could save your life or someone else's life," he said.
Along with the texting program to combat bullying, Bailey reminded students that there's also gun reward programs in place in the River Region to encourage young people to report guns in schools or out in the community.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and Central Alabama CrimeStoppers have a Gun Deterrent Initiative designed to keep illegal guns off school grounds for the 2017-2018 school year.
It started last year and offers $500 rewards for any tips that lead to the confiscation of a gun on school grounds, including after school sanctioned events.
This year in Montgomery County, a new gun reward is taking things a step further to cut down on incidents off school property.
In an effort to reduce the number of gun-related crimes being committed in Montgomery County by juveniles, District Attorney Daryl Bailey, Sheriff Derrick Cunningham, Montgomery Police Chief Ernest Finley, the City of Montgomery, Montgomery County Commission, the Central Alabama Community Foundation (CACF) and Central Alabama CrimeStoppers began a new "Gun Reward Initiative."
A $300 reward will be issued to anyone who provides information regarding a juvenile under the age of 18 that is in illegal possession of a firearm, and that firearm is found and seized by law enforcement.
Citizens are urged to call 911 or 215-STOP to report juveniles in possession of illegal guns.
The $500.00 Gun Initiative is offered to every school system in the River Region, including Autauga, Crenshaw, Elmore, Lowndes, Macon, Montgomery, Pike, and Tallapoosa Counties.