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WEST GOSHEN — Continuing with the theme of social media after a performance on bullying, Fugett Middle School students spent Tuesday afternoon hearing about the dangers of social media, sexting and other felonies from Deputy District Attorney Renee Merion.
The assembly was for just eighth graders as a way to prepare them before heading off to high school the following year.
“This is the age that they’re starting their affiliations with their friends and they’re choosing who their friends are,” Merion said. “The kids are usually left with more time on their own and more time to make bad decisions.
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“Elementary school kids are supervised and in the high school, we found the decision-making process was already ingrained with the older kids. We targeted the middle schoolers to be able to make an impression and let them know that the decisions they make now and the pattern of decisions they make now can affect them later.”
The assembly features a video showing two sequences of events.
The first is two boys getting caught with marijuana in the bathroom with a friend as a lookout in the hallway. All three are arrested and charged with different felonies.
The second is a girl who is constantly bullied finally having enough. After three girls say she will “get it” after school and texting it, the victim then writes a fake bomb threat and is caught. All four are also prosecuted.
“One of the points of doing this is to give you some idea of what can happen that you don’t think could possibly happen or you don’t know is going to happen,” Merion said to the students. “I realize that your friends may think they have a great idea and they say, ‘Hey, come do this with us.’ It may be really hard to tell them no, but if you know that this could be bad, you have to make that decision to tell them no.”
Another focus of the program revolved around sexting, or texting inappropriate things, including photographs.
“One of the things you don’t think about is that a lot of kids are getting into trouble and getting embarrassed for sexting,” Merion said. “Once you hit send, it never can come back, whether that’s a terroristic threat or e-mail or whether it’s a photo of you or someone else. You can never, ever get that back because once it’s out there, it will stay out there.”
To help drive home the point, Merion told the story of two high school students who were in a relationship they thought would last forever. The girl, 16, allowed her boyfriend to take inappropriate photographs of her with his phone. Six months later, they broke up and he sent those photos out to every single person in the school.
While the ex-boyfriend was prosecuted for felony child pornography since he was 17 at the time, the girl then had to live with the fact that everyone had seen the photos of her. She went to college on the other side of the state to get away from it, but within six months, people there had found the same photos online.
“Once it’s out there, somebody can always find it,” Merion said. “There are charges out there for if you take an inappropriate picture of yourself and sending it to another person or just taking it.”
Through these programs, teachers can continue educating the students of the dangers with an accompanying teacher’s manual. Merion said they do receive feedback from those teachers and sometimes even the students who were in attendance.
“We get feedback through the teachers,” she said. “We do have a lot of kids come up afterwards and keep asking questions.”
It’s the hope of the District Attorney’s office to make in impact on these students now while they still have time to make the right decisions down the road.
“My point in telling you all this is because I want you guys to make better decisions because I don’t want you to become a victim or as a defendant,” Merion said. “I don’t want to see you in my court.”