"There is a beast that lives in your heart. It changes your mind, feelings, behavior, and opinion. It makes you cruel and egocentric, willing to hurt the others. It is hatred -- one of the most widespread feelings all over the world; the anger of those who are not strong enough to get over the challenges that our life is full of."
-- From "Why Hate?" by Fatme Alieva, age 16, Bulgaria
On April 28, 1999, one week after two students killed 12 classmates and a teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, a 14-year-old boy opened fire inside W. R. Myers High School in Taber, Alberta, Canada. A 17-year-old student, the son of a popular local minister, died in the attack and a second student was injured. Reportedly, the 14-year-old shooter, described by his classmates as "unpopular" and "a real loser," was reacting to years of bullying by some of his classmates.
All of Canada was shocked by the Taber killing, the first in a Canadian high school in more than 20 years. But students at Banded Peak School in Bragg Creek, Alberta, Canada, decided to do something about it. They created www.bullying.org a Web site designed to help victims of bullies deal with the problem in nonviolent ways -- and to help victims and others learn how to solve the problem.
"The shooting in Taber was a copycat shooting, happening just days after the shootings in Littleton, Colorado," Web site project coordinator William Belsey told Education World. "Our students decided to create the Web site when they learned that the students who did the shootings in both Littleton and Taber were social outcasts who were constantly bullied and teased. As victims of bullying, these were powerless young people, desperately trying to regain control in their lives."
"An icy, loveless classroom produces bleeding hearts.
They pick and pull at imperfections and leave lifeless tender parts.
When I hit rock bottom, I will never know,
I've lost all connections, lost all friends.
But the garden I have reaped, was not the garden sewn."
-- From "I Always Feared the Bell," by Rosie Williams, age 15, Canada
The www.bullying.org Web site provides victims of bullying with a resource most don't have in their own lives: someone to talk to. In the I Want to Share section of the site, victims of bullying from around the world have the opportunity to express their thoughts, feelings, and frustrations in the form of essays, poems, drawings, photos, and films.
"That section alone has really made a difference in the lives of many kids," Belsey said. "We have more than 1,000 visitors a week. One young person who shared her story, wrote us again to tell us that the first time she wrote, she was thinking of taking her own life. But after sharing her story with others on the Web site, she was feeling more in control."
"I started out believing what my parents said, 'You're a beautiful girl, and no one can ever change that.' The truth is, as I've learned it, people can change it, at least, they can change the way you think about your own beauty. Five years ago, I looked in the mirror and saw a bright, cheery, happy, beautiful nine-year-old. Now I look in the mirror and see a fat, depressed 14-year-old, all thanks to them: the bullies. You know who you are. I'm not going to let you win."
-- From "So This Is My Life -- I Got Up For This?" by Alexandra Dunnett, age 14, Canada
Of course, simply having someone to talk to doesn't solve the problem of bullying. According to Olweus, bullying will not end without aggressive, effective intervention on the part of adults and an attitude of nonacceptance of bullying on the part of other students. "There's no magic bullet that will stop bullying," Olweus points out. "Every member of the school community must work systematically to eliminate the problem."
Often, however, parents, teachers, and concerned students don't know how to help or where to find the resources available to them. The I Want to Help section of the Banded Peak site addresses that issue as well, providing a list of informational resources, agencies, and links to Web sites about techniques and programs that deal with bullying. The page includes educational resources, media coverage about bullying and teasing, research on bullying and teasing, options to bullying, and links to bullying-related Web sites. It also contains a moving audio message from Reverend Dale Lang, the father of Taber victim Jason Lang.
The www.bullying.org Web site was created by student members of the Community NET-Workers Project at Banded Peak. The project involves students in creating Web sites for local nonprofit groups. For this Web site, Belsey noted, students in grades 1 through 3 contributed the drawings. Boys and girls in grades 4 through 7 did the research and writing. And two eighth graders hard-coded the html and created the main graphics using a digital image composer.
In addition to the Help and Sharing pages, www.bullying.org includes information about the site's history, including news accounts of the Taber shootings, and comments about the site from visitors from around the world. The site is far from finished, however. According to Belsey, "The students are now soliciting submissions from celebrities. Celebrities have tremendous influence over young people, and each of them has a story to tell and lessons to teach about the hurdles they have had to overcome."
According to Olweus, bullying -- especially in its most severe forms -- has increased in our schools in recent years. To escape the bullying, Olweus notes, victims frequently avoid school and social interaction. Some resort to violence against others or themselves, but even those who don't kill or attempt suicide often experience lifelong psychological problems that interfere with their academic, social, and emotional development. And those who are bullied are not the only victims. The bullies themselves tend to become aggressive adults with a much greater risk of participating in criminal activity. Even those children who are neither bullies nor victims, those who witness the bullying, suffer from fear and anxiety and from being in a learning environment poisoned by bullying.
"More and more people," Belsey said, "are realizing that bullying is not simply a rite of childhood that has to be somehow endured or ignored. It is clear that we do so at our own peril." -- And at the peril of our children.
Editor's Note: All the student quotes in this article were obtained at the Web site created by students at Banded Peak School in Bragg Creek, Alberta, Canada.
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