By Yena Kwak
Yena Kwak is currently a 10th grader at Tenafly High School. Her story, From Middle School Student to Bully Prevention Advocate, appeared
in the June 2013 issue of School Climate Matters. The piece featured her perspective of the bullying climate of her then school, Tenafly Middle School, and her desire to engage and encourage students to become active upstanders. Here she describes her personal experience as a student and as a representative at NSCC’s Summer Institute. Read on for ways educators across the nation can support youth facing similar struggles.
Learning and Growing
School is where students take their first baby steps into society. This is where they begin to learn the essential social and emotional skills such as communication, cooperation, empathy and reflection. To learn these effectively, students need an environment where they feel accepted and safe. Problems such as bullying can interfere with this-students may be afraid, anxious and even terrified of their peers because they don’t know when and if they will be bullied. Bullying is both psychological and physical, where you feel nervous and also suspicious of the intentions of your peers. This
trauma distracts students from a successful learning experience. Adding to this, victims seclude themselves from others in the same school society, which sometimes leads to being ignored or facing rumors and name-calling. Gradually, victims become alienated in the school. To them, their school climate couldn’t be any worse.
Perfect Solutions Don’t Exist
Bullying, in my opinion, has no perfect solution. Many schools emphasize talking to adults when bullied, but I think this keeps the bully victim quiet. From around the age of ten and up, students become embarrassed and unwilling to talk to adults. They think they are mature enough to solve bullying problems by themselves and that time will solve everything. Also, and this is from my own experience, they’re afraid of exclusion. When I was bullied in my previous school, I did consider consulting the school counselor, but I decided against it because I was scared. I thought if I “tattled” on my so-called friends, I would become completely friendless and excluded. I never thought about making new friends because everyone seemed to be involved in
separate cliques. I definitely knew it would be difficult to squeeze into a new group of friends. So, I maintained my silence and tried to ignore the bullying. I had little success with this. When I was in the 6th grade, I was involved in a group called “peer leaders” where students helped other students overcome bullying. I found it easier to help others than to help myself. Even after becoming a satisfactory peer leader, I couldn’t solve my own issue. The problem was the peer leader program educated students to help others but it didn’t teach the peer leaders how to deal with bullying if it happened to them.
What Can You Do?
Adults in my school did the best they could to support students. Students sometimes just don’t know what they need or, if they do know, they don’t know how to communicate the feeling. i believe the best way the adults can help bullied students is to be mindful of things going on around the school, especially in the cafeteria. From my experiences, I would say the first step is breaking the mindset of having separate, private cliques. This is especially a problem among girls. A student involved in a clique may make friends with other students but once that student is surrounded by her clique, she becomes much more comfortable communicating their personal problems.
If adults help students break this mindset, new friendships can be formed in the more receptive school society. Another way to help the students is to eliminate the thought that school supervisors exist only to punish bad behavior without wanting to know more about what happened and why it happened. If staff members connect with students outside the classroom in a different situation such as playing a sports game or being available after school to talk, student perspective changes and students become more open to communicate their personal problems.
In addition to breaking student opinion, students need to know how hard their teachers are working to improve the school climates. This summer, I attended NSCC’s Summer Institute. From a student point of view, I was extremely touched by the determination of the school leaders to improve their school climates and address bullying problems in their communities. I was very grateful for the invitation and felt included as a student representative.
Sometimes students need to know that staff are as concerned (if not more) about the problems students are facing. This is something important I learned from the Summer Institute. If I could, I would share with students one thing: I would tell them that their school leaders are striving very hard to achieve the goal of creating the best school climates possible.
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