Miss Mississippi contestant urges zero tolerance for school bullying

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Citing the impact negative words can have on people, a Miss Mississippi contestant is spreading a positive message built on experience.

“I want to reach students across the entire nation,” said Miss Riverland 2010 Jessica Cofield, who visited St. Aloysius High School and will continue her speaking tour, called “The Cofield Factor,” through May. “There’s not a day that goes by that you don’t see somebody being bullied.”

During the presentation to Joan Thornton’s seventh-grade theology class at St. Al, Cofield encouraged students to adopt her motto, “Take a stand, lend a hand.”

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“I’m just amazed when kids come forward and talk,” said Cofield, who was in Vicksburg for the 2010 Miss Mississippi Pageant orientation. “I can definitely relate to bullying.”

A Wiggins native, Cofield, 22, began her campaign nine years ago after witnessing her older sister, Lacey, now 24, involved in a fight at school.

“She just happened to be in between two big football players as they were about to fight,” she said. “She just happened to be in the way. It was terrifying for her and our family.”

Since, Cofield has written essays and a book, “Don’t Pick on Sam.” She has also lobbied the Mississippi Legislature to take a stand against bullying.

“The book is to help kids identify who the bully is and who the hero is,” Cofield said.

Reports of school bullying are common in the news.

This week, in Woburn, Mass., a teenager is on trial, charged with fatally stabbing another student at a suburban Boston high school. The youth’s defense attorney has said the boy was often ridiculed and bullied at school, and suffers from an autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and is possibly bipolar.

Perhaps the most recognized case in Mississippi was that of Luke Woodham, who, in 1997, killed two students and injured seven others at his high school in Pearl. Woodham was 16 at the time and attributed his actions to being bullied.

“I was talking to a third-grade class, and when I asked them how it makes them feel when they’re bullied,” Cofield said, “one little girl said, ‘It makes me want to kill myself.’ I took her aside and I talked to her. Her teachers will keep an eye on her.”

Cofield has a Web site where students can send her messages — www.thecofieldfactor.com. She is the daughter of Randy and Cindy Cofield of Wiggins and a senior at William Carey University in Hattiesburg, where she is set to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business communication. She also works part time for the City of Hattiesburg as a public relations agent. In July, she will return to Vicksburg to compete in the 53rd Miss Mississippi Pageant.

Contact Manivanh Chanprasith at mchan@vicksburgpost.com