Financial Slavery

Thursday, April 5, 2012

How To Create A Community In Which Students Feel A Part

We are about three months until the end of the year. I have been meeting with the freshmen class once a month to discuss Bullying and how we, as a community, can work together to make the school safer, stronger, more cohesive. It has been challenging. There have been times when I have been feeling that the task is bigger than I am. That it isn't a matter of educating the students but rather overcoming the school's attitude - the adults, the administration, the parents, the overwhelming apathy in face of problems that seem insurmountable and unsolvable. There are days when I listen to the people I work with as they discuss the futility of creating change when there is no clear leadership - when the students are "disrespectful" - when nothing ever lasts long enough to have an impact. And I have a student who is being bullied while I do this work, and I watch in frustration and growing anger as her parent fights for her right to attend school safely and nothing seems to make the situation better. The bullies get suspended - they don't care. We organize a group of students to walk the victim to classes and offer protection in the halls and cafeteria - the bullies target her in classes and the teachers seem oblivious. We get the teachers on board and the bullies wait for her outside her house.

And yet, despite my frustration and my anger. My feelings of impotence. My days when I listen to colleagues as they vent about their lack of power and their feeling that it is useless to try and create change because change will never come. And then I have moments... moments when the students themselves (always the first to embrace change and willing to take leaps of faith) take my breath away. I went in for the March Bullying Awareness sessions (as the students have dubbed them). We had discussions about the ultimate fallout from bullying - bullycide. We talked about the Tyler Clemente case and the Dharun Ravi sentencing. And the students explored who Tyler's death impacted. And these young people, who in October questioned why we should "stick our noses where they don't belong," who asked me "were you raised to stick your nose into every one's business?" who claimed they would never "snitch," and that if it didn't impact them, it didn't concern them. These young people suddenly spontaneously began discussing bias and safety and how do we as a community, make it safe for everyone to be who they are and to have privacy no matter what. How do we change things? What message does it send to the gay community if they feel unsafe to be open about who they are? They argued passionately about posting videos that have the potential to embarrass others and how they would feel if someone was so impacted by their "joke" or "prank" that it shattered their life. They were engaged. They were passionate. They were a community.

When did this happen? I didn't even notice. Their teachers noticed. They have pulled me aside and thanked me for the dialogue; for the opportunity; for the growth they are seeing. And even though I still feel (on days) tired and the lone voice in the wilderness. I still feel anger and frustration for the victims who still are unsafe. I feel hope. I feel that if we continue the dialogue, the awareness building... we can build a community where bullying just isn't tolerated.

So to end this meandering... I'll add a diamond poem written by some of the freshmen about bullying and their feelings.  Poems created with nine words, utilizing what bullying means to them, how it looks, how it sounds, what safety means and then some sort of ending. Here are a few examples of their work:


Helpless            People

Laughing               Crying               Screaming

God                 Parents



Pain                      Fear

Cries                   "Help"                        Laugh

Home                                 God



Pain                 Evil

Hell                            Tears                       Silence/Whispers

Acceptance                    Trust



Verbal               Physical

Cursing                        Shouting                      Yelling

Friends                Counseling



  1. Thank you for the update, Jen. It's a shame that you feel like a lone wolf-- I'd like to think that others would want to accompany you on your mission. But it's important work you are doing, and you are right to credit the students with their impetus to affect change. I am thankful for your leadership to guide their youthful, beautiful values.

    LOVE the diamond poem. Please tell the student who wrote it that I was able to go on my own emotional journey as I read and reread it. I found it a very satisfying expression of his/her sensitivity.

  2. Rachel, it is wonderful to hear your voice and support. You have been missed. There are some who are supportive, but ironically, often the few of us who engage in this feel more support from outside our community than from within. Change is scary and hard. It is a journey but one I am unwilling to give up on. The road not traveled and all that. :) I'll pass your comments about the poem onto the student. Thanks!

  3. To stop bullying, everyone who is a part of a school community needs to be both aware and willing to step up:

    Students should be empowered to not only refrain from bullying, but stand up for others who are in need of help. This means reporting bullying when they see it as well as making an effort to make everyone feel included.