When I was 14 or 15 years old, I was bullied by a classmate. I do not recall his name or many of the details surrounding his hurtful behavior, but I very much remember one particular incident and the feelings engendered by such. We were in a class taught by a younger female teacher, seated toward the rear (no doubt due to the whims of alphabetical fate). For reasons I either cannot recollect or simply do not know, this classmate who sat adjacent to me and was to become my tormenter had taken a disliking to me. On this occasion, he had grabbed my hand and was bending my fingers in such a way as to cause me a good deal of discomfort. He had one eye on the teacherâ€”who was oblivious to what was going onâ€”and one eye on me. He whispered a warning not to speak up or rat him out. Eventually, he let go of my hand, and life went on its less than merry way. I never told the teacher or an administrator or my parents what had taken place. I felt ashamed. And hurt. And bewildered. After a timeâ€”perhaps the end of the term when class schedules shiftedâ€”the bully and I parted ways, and I do not believe we ever crossed paths in any significant way again. But, in some small fashion, he stayed with me and is still with me now. The sting persists.
Back then, there were no formal programs addressing bullying. Indeed, there was not much recognition on the part of schools that bullying was a major problem. But times have changed, and many schools have come around to the reality that children are regularly tormented, both physically and psychologically, in their midst. And efforts are being made to remedy the situation, as reported in the New York Times:
GREENWICH, Conn.â€”This past November, the Greenwich High School principal, Alan J. Capasso, greeted an early morning assembly of more than 800 freshmen about to begin a mandatory anti-bias, anti-bullying program called â€œNames Can Really Hurt Us.â€? He told them, â€œThis is the most important day of your school year.â€?
In Greenwich, where diverse doesnâ€™t begin to describe the pan-cultural buzz animating the schoolâ€™s hangar-size cafeteria, â€œNames,â€? as the program is known, is cool â€” as in â€œHey, you doing â€˜Namesâ€™ this year? It rocks.â€? After five years, â€œNamesâ€? day is assured a place on the school calendar, along with homecoming, SAT prep and the prom.
Farther north at New Milford High School, Jonathan Henion, a senior, stood before a â€œNamesâ€? assembly of sophomores to share a story he insisted was no big deal, except that it suggested how one small action could make a difference:
â€œI was standing in the rotunda with friends of mine, about 30 kids. I noticed this small girl walking by. She had on a big backpack filled with heavy books, and she fell. I just stood there watching and thought to myself, â€˜What a loser.â€™ She just lay there trying to get up. The girlâ€™s face kept getting redder and redder listening to the relentless taunting by my friends. Something clicked. I walked over and lifted her up, picked up her books and brushed the dirt off her arms.â€?
Jonathanâ€™s little moment was greeted with huge applause; he looked surprised. New Milfordâ€™s principal, Greg P. Shugrue, sharing pizza with Jonathan and other student panelists afterward, told them: â€œThis is the best school atmosphere Iâ€™ve ever worked in. And itâ€™s because of the commitment to this program.â€?
â€œNames,â€? which requires two months of preparation and training by students and staff members, is not a program that any participant or observer can easily forget. There is straight talk. There are tears, hugs, high-fives, laughs, applause and some astonishing apologies.
â€œI went to observe it at Weston High School in 2000,â€? said Carol Sutton, a social studies teacher and the catalyst for bringing â€œNamesâ€? to Greenwich. â€œWhat I saw was astounding. I was impressed by the student panelists and the kids who got up in the open-mike segment. I was amazed. I came back and said, â€˜Letâ€™s get it done.â€™ â€?
Over the last 11 years, some 65,600 Connecticut high school students have participated in â€œNames,â€? which is sponsored and supervised by the Connecticut Office of the Anti-Defamation League. Guided by teachers, trained student volunteers and league facilitators, students talk with the unflinching candor of children about topics most adults would prefer to avoid: gossip, rumor, physical harassment, racism, homophobia, depression, eating disorders, self-mutilation, drinking, drugs, suicide â€” the full range of bullying behavior and its consequences. [full text]