What should schools do about bullies?

Sophie Coffman

Bullying and the problems it creates are drawing more and more attention in schools across the country. States are considering stronger anti-bullying rules and are trying to determine how to deal with cyber-bullying, the use of the Internet to intimidate and abuse students. Georgia’s law was toughened just last year.

We asked some local high students whether they had witnessed bullying during their school careers and what they thought schools should, or could, do about it. Here are their thoughts.

“Of course I have. I don’t know a student who hasn’t. I don’t think bullying should ever be tolerated, and the amount of bullying present in all of our schools is appalling.

“No student ever deserves the disrespect of being mocked and harmed for who they are, or what their beliefs are. Everyone, not just teachers, should be on the lookout for instances of bullying, and serious consequences should be dealt to those found guilty. Also, the importance of respecting and accepting people for who they are and chose to be should be stressed to students.”

Sophie Coffman, Atlanta Girls’ School, junior

Katherine Keith

“Last summer, I dealt with a case of bullying as a camp counselor. A 9-year-old girl discovered that her cabin mates had created a ‘burn book,’ like the one seen in the movie “Mean Girls.” They described her in humiliating and degrading scenarios.

“I was appalled not only by the pain inflicted on the victim, but also by the brutality of her young cabin mates. Especially with young girls, I have seen that psychological torment can be the most dangerous form of bullying. Physical wounds are often visible and able to heal, while mental anguish can produce a lifetime of torment—unnoticed.

“We approached the situation at camp by raising awareness, cutting contact between those involved, and placing the victim in a safe environment. After having her confidence decimated by those she considered friends, it was key to establish new, healthy relationships she could depend on.

“The girl’s confidence in her counselors was the only way we learned of the incident. This is identical to the need for students to confide in their schoolteachers to deter bullying. It is critical for youths to have adults they can confide in, other than their parents. The student has a friend who can take action, if necessary, and teachers will be cognizant of bullying dynamics within the group.”

Katherine Keith, Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School, senior

Sarah Ouderkirk

“I have never seen any direct bullying in the halls of St. Pius. However, I have seen some intense rivalries between students of different grades, particularly groups of girls that have turned in to ugly disputes.

“I believe the true problem of bullying at Pius, though very minimal, is cyber-bullying. On Facebook, I have witnessed very rude and unnecessary posts between groups of girls.

“St. Pius does a wonderful job of monitoring bullying at St. Pius. However, bullying online does take place. This is outside of school so the school does not have much control over it. I think a lesson becoming knowledgeable about cyber bullying should be given at St. Pius. The lesson should not just talk about the extremes, but small comments on Facebook that one would never say to someone’s face. That is also bullying.”

Sarah Ouderkirk, St. Pius X Catholic High School, senior

Anna Berinhout

“I’ve only been to two high schools, but North Springs is vastly more accepting and has an environment that encourages a sense of community, which I think helps prevent bullying. Bullying does exist, but I think it’s more laughing at someone’s social blunder behind their back than intentional abuse. However, I was outraged to find a swastika drawn on my 10th grade campaign poster, and there were no repercussions for the unknown person behind this hateful crime.

“I think some teachers and administrators should be more outspoken about not tolerating bullying and discrimination. They don’t do anything to encourage intolerance, but they really don’t do anything to stop it either.”

Anna Berinhout, North Springs Charter High School, senior

Lydia Pappas

“I have never witnessed bullying first hand. However, I know that emotional and cyber bullying can often occur. It is unacceptable in any way, shape or form and can cause serious physical, emotional and psychological harm. It can stick with someone for their whole life and distort how they perceive themselves.

“As an international school, we pride ourselves on our capacity to accept others and be a diverse student body. Bullying should be an important focus for administrators to identify and prevent.”

Lydia Pappas, Riverwood International Charter School, student body president