NEW MARKET, Alabama — A group of seventh- and eighth-graders at Buckhorn Middle School were talking about how they’d been bullied – one because of his size and another because she can’t hear out of one ear – when one student shocked them all.
“I’ve tried suicide,” said the soft-spoken eighth-grader, who asked to remain anonymous because he hadn’t told his friends, parents or even the grandparents he lives with. “I tried it the first of February.
“I stuck a gun in my mouth and pulled the trigger … but the safety was on. I was ready. Everybody hates everything about me.”
The good news for this young man is that Buckhorn Middle School – thanks to administrators like assistant principal Dr. Jackie Hester and the Student Government Association – has one of the nation’s top anti-bullying programs in place. On that same day she learned of the student’s suicide attempt, Hester got him help.
“We had a good conversation,” Hester said of her chat with the young man. “We are all working to help him get to the place he needs to be to prevent anything like that from happening again. That’s what this program is all about.”
The program is called PRESS to Stop Bullying. It stands for providing a positive, open safe environment; reporting systems; educating students and stakeholders; stand up and be a bystander; and snitch-free environment. PRESS to Stop Bullying was named one of the National Exemplary Bully Prevention Programs in the U.S. during the School Safety Advocacy Council’s National Conference on Bullying in Orlando.
One of the key features of PRESS is a red button on the Buckhorn website, allowing students and parents to report bullying and similar activities. The results speak for themselves. Since the inception of the program Buckhorn Middle has seen less fighting and defiance of authority, Hester said.
Programs like PRESS are needed in schools across the nation because, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “bullying, particularly among school-age children, is a major public health problem both domestically and internationally.”
In Madison County, there are likely hundreds of others who have been bullied, just like the eighth-grader who attempted suicide. Several students from Buckhorn’s SGA, which has joined the school’s anti-bullying fight with the slogan “It’s not big to make others feel small,” offered to tell their stories anonymously.
One seventh-grade girl said classmates called her “stupid Mexican” and “illegal immigrant” because she’s half-black and half-Mexican. Another seventh-grade girl said classmates made fun of her Holiness religion and the skirts she wears.
An eighth-grade boy said classmates make fun of his weight. Another seventh-grade girl said classmates called her “grandma” and “old lady” because she has a hearing disability in one ear. A seventh-grade boy said classmates made fun of his size and hit him so badly he also considered suicide but told his dad, who helped him get counseling.
Two years ago, a bullying incident reportedly led to the death of Todd Brown at Discovery Middle School. Hammad Memon goes on trial for the shooting on June 18.
“That was heart-wrenching,” Hester said of the incident. “You don’t expect that to happen in our schools. We’ve got to do what we can to prevent a similar situation.”
Hester started thinking about PRESS to Stop Bullying in 2010 when she witnessed overcrowding and bullying in the old Buckhorn Middle School (the new school was built two years ago). Another factor was a bullying survey from Athens State University. But her passion goes back to her own middle school bullying nightmare on March 8, 1990.
Hester pulls out a scrapbook with yellowed newspaper pages and flips to a particular page. The story is about an eighth-grader at Johnson Junior High School in Limestone County who pulled out a gun as Hester sat on the front row. He’d had an argument with his girlfriend and was upset, but when the girlfriend had a seizure he let the students leave the classroom one by one, Hester said.
“I wasn’t able to tell anyone about that story until a year or so ago,” Hester admitted. “It was very traumatic. That’s why we’ve got to stop bullying.”
WHAT IT MEANS:
Definitions vary, but most agree bullying involves:
» Imbalance of power: People who bully use their power to control or harm and the people being bullied may have a hard time defending themselves;
» Intent to cause harm: Actions done by accident are not bullying; the person bullying has a goal to cause harm;
» Repetition: Incidents of bullying happen to the same the person over and over by the same person or group
» Verbal: name-calling, teasing
» Social: spreading rumors, leaving people out on purpose, breaking up friendships
» Physical: hitting, punching, shoving
» Cyberbullying: using Internet, mobile phones, etc.
signs a child is being bullied:
» Comes home with damaged or missing clothing or other belongings
» Reports losing items such as books, electronics, clothing or jewelry
» Has unexplained injuries
» Complains frequently of headaches, stomachaches or feeling sick
» Has trouble sleeping or frequent bad dreams
» Changes in eating habits
» Hurts themselves
» Hungry after school from not eating lunch
» Runs away from home
» Loses interest in visiting or talking with friends
» Afraid of going to school or other activities with peers
» Loses interest in school work or begins to do poorly in school
» Appears sad, moody, angry, anxious or depressed
» Talks about suicide
» Feels helpless
» Often feel they are not good enough
» Blame themselves for their problems
» Suddenly has fewer friends
» Avoids certain places
» Acts differently than usual
SIGNS OF BULLYING:
» Violent with others
» Gets into physical or verbal fights with others
» Sent to the principal’s office or detention a lot
» Has extra money or new belongings that cannot be explained
» Is quick to blame others
» Will not accept responsibility for actions
» Has friends who bully others
» Needs to win or be best at everything
» National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
» Contact principal or superintendent or the Alabama Department of Education
» If your child is sick, stressed, not sleeping or having other problems because of bullying, contact your counselor or other health professional
» If your child is bullied because of race, ethnicity or disability and local help is not working, contact the U.S. Department of Education’s Office on Civil Rights.
» Source: www.stopbullying.gov