When it came time to gauge students' views on bullying last week, Long Middle School decided to take advantage of a device many of the students already had handy - cell phones.
Young people text messages to their friends. They text in votes for their favorite performers on television's "American Idol." So school officials figured why not allow them to text the answers to a bullying survey.
"It's kind of embracing new technology," Principal Beth Brown said.
So Monday morning, right after the school day started, the students pulled out their cell phones - something usually forbidden in their classrooms - and focused their eyes on TV screens where physical education teacher Ryan Fisher's image appeared.
It was Fisher's job to guide students through the questions, finding out, among other things, whether they have been bullied, how often they think bullying happens at their school and how likely they are to report bullies.
Students learn from book
The students were prepared. For five weeks, the entire school has been reading a novel titled "The Revealers" by Doug Wilhelm. The novel is about three seventh-graders who grow tired of the bullying they endure and decide to take action.
"It makes you realize (bullying) happens," said Ashley Smith, 13, an eighth-grader. "It teaches you what to do if you are bullied."
To give extra oomph to "The Revealers" reading experience, Brown and other school staff members took turns serving as guest readers. Each person was videotaped reading a chapter aloud and the videos were shown to the students, one a day during the five weeks.
The experience didn't end with the final page of the book. Long Middle plans a family literacy night Thursday. Wilhelm, the author of "The Revealers," will speak at 6 p.m.
Wilhelm also will be at the school all day Friday working with students.
School officials hope their emphasis on bullying the past few weeks will help make students more aware of the problem and what they can do about it.
More than half the Long Middle students who responded to last week's survey - 54 percent - said they have been bullied and 51 percent said they have been bullied at school.
Cyberbullying - willful and repeated harm inflicted through computer, cell phone or other electronic devices - has become a new way for bullies to operate in the modern era.
Yet most of the Long Middle students - 81 percent - said cyberbullying is either a small problem or not a problem at all at their school, a response that pleased Brown. She said cyberbullying may occur more often in high school.
Students still appear reluctant to report bullying they experience or witness, though. Just 36 percent said they are likely or very likely to tell an adult if they heard someone was involved in cyberbullying.
Similarly, just 17 percent said reading the book has made them more likely to do something if they saw someone being bullied, while 20 percent said they are less likely to do something.
Another 28 percent they would help the victim, but they would have done that before reading the book. Meanwhile, 35 percent said they wouldn't help, which is how they would have handled the situation before the book.
The survey was anonymous, though students did identify their age and gender.
The survey turned up at least one surprise, with 31 percent of the students saying the book has made them more likely to bully.
Brown and Kara Deschenes, the school's literacy coach, aren't quite sure what to make of that.
Deschenes said it's possible some students decided to offer a smart-alecky response to the question. After all, they are middle school students.
There's another possibility, too, she said. Reading the book made students aware that bullying is more than a physical attack. Name-calling or excluding someone at lunch, for example, also qualify as bullying.
The students might have suddenly realized these were activities they participated in, she said. Perhaps they said they were more likely to bully because their definition of bullying had broadened.
Name-calling can hurt
Mireya Ramirez, 13, an eighth-grader, said she's unsure how widespread bullying is at Long Middle, but reading "The Revealers" made her realize that some of the name-calling at the school might be more than just people joking around.
Ashley Smith said she's been the victim of name-calling, but can get over any hurt feelings quickly. That's not true for everyone, she said.
"I think there are some kids who have a lower self-esteem," Ashley said. "They don't know how to get over it."
Tyler Murphy, 14, said the book and the emphasis on bullying could make others more aware of the problem, but whether that translates to action - such as students reporting bullying when they witness it - is another matter.
"I don't think people do anything about it because they are scared something might happen to them," Tyler said.
Regardless, he said "The Revealers" is a book worth everyone's time.
"I think every school should read it," Tyler said. "I think it helps kids know it (bullying) happens to other people, not just them."