Not too long ago, Jane* ‘14 loved school. Now, waking up each morning, she must convince herself all over again to go to class. The explanation for this drastic change can be explained in one word: bullying.
“My grades are going down because I don’t want to go to school as much as I used to,” Jane said. “I used to love school, but classes I used to love I now dread, because of people in them.”
Jane’s social experience changed when a friend in her inner group stopped talking to her and began spreading rumors, turning many of her other friends against her as well.
“At first I thought I just wasn’t getting texts back,” Jane said. “Then I realized it was a pattern.”
Jane’s story is representative of a larger story told every day throughout the halls of City High. Bullying is defined by www.bullyingstatistics.org as “behaviors that focus on making someone else feel inadequate, or focus on belittling someone else. Bullying includes harassment, physical harm, repeatedly demeaning speech and efforts to ostracize another person. Bullying is active, and is done with the intention of bringing another person down.”
City High is no exception to the pervasive force of bullying. At City High, 31 percent of students polled reported having been bullied themselves and 60 percent reported having witnessed bullying during their time at City High.
“Every high school has issues along these lines,” Principal John Bacon said. Despite his acknowledgement that these issues are not specific to City High, Bacon maintains a zero tolerance policy with regard to any form of bullying.
“No one’s a saint and no one’s perfect, but one thing I have absolutely no tolerance for is people just being mean and cruel to each other,” Bacon said. “I don’t expect you to be perfect, but there’s no reason we can’t treat everyone around us with kindness.”
While Bacon’s stance is clear, the shady area lies in which situations call for intervention from the administration. According to Bacon, the school’s policy dictates that any offense taking place on school property falls within the school’s right and responsibility to intervene. Cyber-bullying is more complicated because it can occur anytime, anywhere, so a school’s jurisdiction is less clear. Bacon stated that the general litmus test is if bullying significantly disrupts a student’s school day, then it is again the right and responsibility of the school to intervene.
To counter the negative effects of bullying, Bacon stated that City High makes adults available with whom the students can discuss their personal lives. While teachers and administrators are often available, Rick Spears with UAY Youth Outreach Counselor has been employed at City High for this purpose for the past four years.
“I want to reach out to students and let them know they can talk at UAY, they can be safe, they can speak to adults about these issues if that is their choice,” Spears said. “My goal is to be a resource for kids who need help at this time of life.”
Specifically, Spears described a desire to develop relationships with students. With these personal relationships, Spears works with students to brainstorm options for difficult situations they encounter.
“We help the students come up with solutions that they can live with, which is different for everybody,” Spears said. “We try to develop options, try to problem solve, but we let them make the decision about how to deal with the situation.”
Among the situations that Spears encounters are students dealing with bullying on account of their sexual orientation. Bob* ‘13 is a student who stopped denying his sexual orientation midway through high school. Many openly gay high school students become the butt of extensive amounts of bullying: physical, emotional and cyber.
For Bob, this bullying occurred more throughout the time period from seventh through ninth grade, when he was not open about his sexual orientation.
“I got cyber-bullied for a while,” Bob said. “I got facebook messages threatening to beat me up and kill me.”
Bob described the impact that fear of bullying had on his own attitude during this period of time.
“When I was scared that I was going to be bullied, I was really mean to people for a while,” Bob said. “But that’s not a good way to cope.”
Since he stopped denying his sexual orientation, both to himself and others, Bob’s outlook on bullying has changed dramatically. He is now a strong advocate against using the word retarded as a negative adjective. He attributes to his own experience of becoming comfortable with his identity: “Growing up and maturing,” Bob said, describing the personal transition that led to this change in perspective, “realizing that there’s nothing wrong with who I am.”
Bob and Jane have both been influenced by the pervasive force of bullying. Despite the undeniable reality of this presence at City High, Bacon remains positive and optimistic about the potential of this school to continue to combat the damage of this ever-present harm.
“One of the great things at City High, one of the most special, is that it really has a legacy of acceptance and tolerance,” Bacon said. “Across different social groups, we are all Little Hawks, we are all a school family. There is a great harmony, and our responsibility is to continue to advance that legacy.”
*Names changed to protect privacy
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