Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Calistoga schools: Student writing confronts bullying

Close-up of Cynthia M. Parkhill, wearing a yellow-crocheted hat with a 'No Bully' pin, the word 'Bully' in black letters on yellow with a red circle and red-line diagonal strike-through
My ‘No Bully’ mugshot
As a survivor of bullying, I try to monitor campus culture to verify that bullying is being acknowledged and dealt with at my former schools.

Most recently, my research led me to “Taking Action on Bullying,” student writing produced for “The Paw” journalism project at Calistoga Junior/Senior High School.

I want to thank Paw staff for their willingness to address bullying in the Calistoga schools. I was physically attacked, verbally abused and socially ostracized throughout my tenure at Calistoga Elementary and Calistoga Junior/Senior High School.

A 2013 senior-class survey of eighth-graders at Calistoga Junior/Senior High School suggested that, as recently as 2013, bullying continued to be a problem, with 10 out of 22 students indicating yes to the question, “Have you been bullied in this school year?” It especially troubled me that 18 of 22 said their teachers didn’t notice or didn’t care that people were being bullied.

From my experience, some aspects of school culture facilitated abuse. During P.E., the most popular students were permitted to choose sides for teams. I was picked last every time, in front of the entire class.

In one elementary classroom, the teacher made her students take hands in a circle. She actually had a supply of plastic combs so that so students on either side of me who didn’t want to take my hand, could hold a comb-end while I was forced to take the other end. Instead of using a “teachable moment” to urge that bullying me was unacceptable, this teacher through her actions affirmed to my classmates that excluding me was OK.

Our school population was so small, everyone in school knew who the outcast was. On a couple of occasions, I remember establishing friendships with new arrivals to the school, but those only lasted so long. One girl informed me that we could still be friends when no one else was around. A couple others just stopped hanging out without communicating why.

In high school I had to endure a gauntlet of larger students shoving me as I walked through the hall.

In one particularly frightening incident while unsupervised in a classroom, a larger male student grabbed me from behind and simulated sexual intercourse. I was completely shocked and was unable to articulate what had happened to me.

High school was characterized by mandatory assemblies in which student body officers imposed challenges for other students in school. It’s possible that to other students and faculty, this was merely enjoyable fun, but I was always on edge whenever I had to attend rallies, wondering if I would be picked.

Systematic exclusion had been such a constant throughout my years in school that if any students were friendly toward me during later years, it was difficult to recognize. I participated in group events through church or young people’s clubs (i.e. Girl Scouts and 4-H) but never felt entirely comfortable, and by 12th grade I at least had one person with whom I could consistently hang out.

In adulthood when I began to speak out against the bullying I endured, I was subjected to backlash.

A person with whom I never went to school (he graduated from Calistoga Junior/Senior High School 20 years before I did) denied that bullying ever happened at our school and that what happened to me was my fault because “students like me” like to stand on the sidelines and criticize instead of getting involved.

For that reason, I am grateful to student reporting like that for “The Paw,” and for school dramatic productions like “Bang, Bang, You’re Dead.”

One of the worst consequences of bullying is a refusal by some people to believe that a victim was abused and that if something happened it was the victim’s responsibility to somehow correct or prevent.

Brave students’ accounts, including the 2013 survey responses and a “Bang, Bang” cast member’s statement in the Weekly Calistogan, make it much more difficult to deny that bullying went on at our schools.

1 comment:

  1. A Calistoga Junior/Senior High School journalism project addresses bullying circa June 2016, and a survey of eighth-graders by the 2013 senior class documented bullying prevalence. As a peer-abuse survivor, I appreciate that this topic is being confronted in my former school. Every student testimony makes it that more difficult to deny that bullying took place, or worse, blame the victim for failing to prevent abuse.


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