By Nan Austin, The Modesto Bee
June 21–National statistics say one in five tweens and teens report being bullied at school. Doing the math, that means an average of seven kids in every class. The number has fallen from nearly one in three reported in 2007, but the downturn offers scant comfort to those being cornered, hit and smeared on social media.
Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other social media apps have taken bullying to new lows.
Reading adults, as much as teens, ripping at each other makes the sites almost a training ground, noticed Sandra Chavarria, a graduation coach at Prescott Junior High School. “There’s been times when I’ve been impressed by the degree of nastiness,” she said, referring to bullying instances she’s handled.
The maturity level at junior high makes tweens especially vulnerable to being singled out, and especially heartless in their attacks. “Young people don’t realize how much that hurts,” Chavarria said.
The old days of cornering a kid in the bathroom were bad, but the danger stopped at the front door, noted Sylvan school board member David Collins, who works with the Center for Human Services. “Now, with social media, it follows them until they go to bed,” he said.
Social media was the weapon of choice for bullies who went after Breanna Mendoza, an eighth-grader at Dutcher Middle School in Turlock. Mendoza has a facial deformity and was bullied so badly her parents took her out of school and spoke out publicly. Students at the school, speaking informally, said it “got ridiculous.”
News reports and social media spread the word of this earnest young woman and how she considered suicide, bringing an outpouring of community support. But few bullied young people have such happy endings.
Materials and information to combat bullying are available at www.stopbullying.gov.
Schools have character education programs in place, and teachers and principals do what they can, writes Dutcher teacher Alex Prasad in Saturday’s Eye on Education tab. Prasad, who did not have Breanna as a student, said she and other teachers had no clue it was happening. It will take students’ help to end bullying, her opinion piece says.
Social media does not leave visible bruises. Even when there are bruises teachers see, often there is little more than conflicting accounts to go on, making discipline problematic. With years of suspending and expelling students having failed to solve the problem — sometimes making it worse — schools are turning to other ways to fix it.
Counseling for all kids, academic help, talking to families and other interventions are being used instead. Student-to-student sessions with a mediator, talking through a conflict, are gaining favor.
But Nina Gatton, mother of a Modesto second-grader, wanted her son’s tormentor gone. “The school did nothing about it; you can’t have a zero-tolerance policy to bullying and then do nothing,” she said in exasperation after seeing the bully at school the next day.
“He beat up my son,” Gatton said. “He spun him around and round three times, grabbed a handful of dirt and grass and shoved it in his mouth, and then punched him in the eye.” The school told her the bully had been disciplined, but could not give her details or promise to guard her son at all times.
“They told me, ‘We can’t protect him everywhere,'” she said. “That’s the last thing a parent wants to hear!”
A little kid shouldn’t have to watch his back when he goes to the bathroom.
Nina Gatton, mother of bullied second-grader
For one child, even standing in line after recess held perils, said father Kamal Bahabar. His 9-year-old was tripped, kicked and pushed, suffering bruises and swelling around his head during five or six incidents, he said. Bahabar believes children who were watching lied when asked about it by the principal. Administrators told him his culture was more polite, but that it was normal child’s play in America, he said, calling the remark racist.
Neither parent’s claim could be confirmed. School district employees cannot, by law, discuss discipline matters of specific students. But both were typical of a spate of calls to the Bee after the story about Breanna’s bullying.
The issue also brings a storm of reaction from students. The Gallo Center for the Arts produced a play called “Only 13″ in the fall, a play for schoolchildren that looked at the dangers and implications of teen bullying.
“Once I breached the subject in class, it was difficult to bring the kids back to talk about anything else because they all wanted to share their responses,” said Newman teacher John Pavia after his class saw the play in October.
What if we reach kids before they make poor choices?
In a hopeful turn, Merced County Teacher of the Year Annie Delgado is introducing a mentoring program called “Lift While You Lead” for middle school girls.
“I’m terrified, excited and truly believe everything I have been involved with so far has led me to this,” Delgado said. For many students, 13 is a critical age. At this point, adolescents either will make right or wrong decisions and the need for mentors is great, she said.
Lift While You Lead will begin Monday with a five-week summer session for up to 36 students at Tenaya Middle School in Merced. It is a collaboration of the Merced Union High School District, Merced City School District, UC Merced and community resources. There will be eight student mentors from UC Merced this summer along with four high school mentors. The numbers will increase for fall and spring sessions of the program.
“This is a golden opportunity to bring two of our largest educational organizations together in a partnership that was forged on behalf of students,” said Tammie Calzadillas, assistant superintendent for educational services with the Merced Union High School District.
Three fall sessions and four spring sessions will participate in a community service project to be determined, and Delgado hopes it carries into high school. She teaches women’s studies classes at Yosemite and Buhach Colony high schools, along with AVID college preparation, economics and government.
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