24 Mar One Child Bullied is Too Many
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For students robbed of their independence by bullying, education paves the way for healing.
Most Orange County schoolchildren can’t wait for the recess bell to ring. But when Rebeca was 10, she would sprint to the bathroom to hide instead of joining in a game of soccer or playing with friends. The verbal assaults she experienced daily from classmates far surpassed the “mean girl” drama we’ve come to regard as an unfortunate part of growing up. Instead, Rebeca endured what the National School Safety Center identifies as a bullying epidemic affecting 2.7 million school-age victims.
“They wanted me to know that I was bullied”, remembers Rebeca, now 13. “They wanted to see me cry, and they wanted to get to me,” she recounted, still feeling the pain. “I would sit in class, worried about having to go on break next, instead of concentrating on learning.”
School bullying is one of the issues most cited by students affecting their education, according to Jim Perez, manager of safe schools and support services for the Orange County Department of Education.
“Students fearful of bullying may drop out of school, withdraw from social activities, lack self-esteem, neglect their appearance, suffer from depression and fail classes,” Perez said.
Lourdes, Rebeca’s mother, now recognizes those classic signs.
“She complained of stomach aches and headaches. She didn’t want to go to school,” Lourdes said. “Bullying took away her ability to concentrate. I thought she had difficulty learning.”
Not only does bullying hinder a child in the classroom, but without intervention, children and teens who are bullied can turn their feelings of helplessness, anger and frustration inward, resorting to self-destructive behavior; or outward, with disastrous consequences.
But not Rebeca. She finally had enough. She addressed her class the next year with an anti-bullying presentation she developed herself. It was so effective that even some of her bullies apologized to her. She now talks with other classes and even addressed a counseling class at Fullerton College.
“I have learned to look for the positive in even the worst situation,” Rebeca says. In fact, she is working to earn her Girl Scout Silver Award with an anti-bullying message as her focus.
Help is also being offered by the OC Department of Education through the “I’ve Got Your Back” two-day assembly, which empowers students as ambassadors of change by making them aware of bullying, defining its effects on the entire campus population, connecting the issue to students personally, and motivating them to make their campus safer for all students. The program is producing encouraging results, with 73 percent of participants reporting that they learned new information about bullying and 79 percent saying they now felt empowered to stand up to bullying.
Another organization working to prevent bullying is Tustin-based Get Safe, which provides education to create awareness, understanding and acceptance. It incorporates inclusion training into its bullying prevention curriculum, pointing out that children and adolescents with special needs are five times more likely to be bullied than other children.
Today’s youth also face a new kind of threat that kids and teens just a generation ago could not have imagined—the 24/7 torment of online bullying.
We might not be able to see the same outward signs of bullying, but the damage done by cyberbullying is just as real, and all too familiar to students. According to statistics from the i-SAFE Foundation, more than half of adolescents and teens have experienced online bullying. Of those young people, more than half never tell their parents when cyberbullying occurs.
How do we lift this veil of invisibility? Experts agree that it comes down to awareness – not just with students, but with teachers, school administrators and parents.
One child bullied is too many. To get involved with local nonprofits providing anti-bullying education, visit Connect OC Nonprofit Central at ocnonprofitcentral.org.
Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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