Highlands Middle School students trash gossip

| Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Ariana Kovach and Georgia Peters like to think of themselves as gossip garbage women.

The two Highlands Middle School sixth-graders have made an effort to turn the school into a gossip-free area.

As part of the effort, the two girls created a “Gossip Garbage Box.” They asked students during No Gossip Week (Nov. 4 to 8) to write down gossip they heard and toss it in the box, instead of spreading it.

“Gossip is garbage,” Ariana, 11, of Harrison, says in a determined tone. “So, it goes right in the garbage can.

“Crinkle it up, and throw it away.”

The girls originally started the project to earn a badge through Girl Scout troop 54353, in Harrison.

It worked so well with the Girl Scouts, they decided to try it at the middle school.

“The idea came from our (Scouts) journey book,” Georgia, 12, of Harrison says. “It just inspired us to do it.

“When we found out we could do it at school, it was really exciting.”

The National Center for Educational Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 18 percent of middle-school students reported having gossip spread about them.

The American Psychological Association considers gossip a type of bullying.

According an association study, 93 percent of the time when students are gossiping, they don't realize they're hurting a peer's feelings. But, a student who is bullied is twice as likely to withdraw from classroom activities and suffer academically.

Pat Tigano, a guidance counselor at the school, says Highlands might adopt the “Gossip Garbage Box” for the rest of the school year.

“The girls did a really great job. I think everyone here loves it and would like it to continue,” she says.

Tigano says she was impressed with the girls' initiative to start the project.

“They came to me and said ‘We want to stop gossip,' ” Tigano says. “I told them they needed to make posters and spread the word.”

A large poster hangs outside the school's guidance office, urging students to stop gossiping.

“It became bigger than anyone thought it would be,” Tigano says. “I went to empty the box for them, and it was really full.

“They emptied it another time, too. A lot of students participated.”

Tigano said that the process of students' writing down what they hear is therapeutic for them.

“They can get it out without actually saying what they heard,” she says.

The girls say that, like most middle schools, Highlands has its fair share of gossip.

“I notice it a lot in the sixth-grade,” Ariana says. “It's always like, ‘Someone likes this person,' or ‘They like each other.'”

Ariana say she has even been on the bad end of pre-teen gossip.

“People were saying mean things behind my back,” she says. “When I hear gossip, I don't spread it.

“So, I wanted to help the kids who (were being talked about).”

The girls say their campaign is making progress. “I think it's worked a little,” Ariana says. “There's still some major gossiping going on, but it's middle school. You're going to have it.”

The girls said they wanted people who spread gossip to better understand the consequences of their actions. “If you're speaking gossip, it can go really far,” Georgia says. “They might seem like they're just words, but they could hurt people's feelings.

“Or, worse. You never want to hurt someone.”

The girls had advice for anyone who has been the victim of gossip.

“You have to stay with it,” Georgia says. “You should stand up for yourself. And, if it goes too far, tell a teacher or someone in charge.”

Ariana agrees.

“You don't have to take it,” she says. “And, if you're gossiping, just stop.”

The girls are daughters of David and Michelle Peters and Mark and Tracy Kovach.

R.A. Monti is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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