West High hosts bullying workshop


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Alexandra Eldridge, a cheerful, red-headed high-school freshman, described herself as sensitive and makes it a goal to never hurt others. But that doesn’t mean she’s never been hurt.

In elementary school, she said, she was often harassed about her looks.

“I was heavier than the rest of the girls my age, and the other kids made fun of me,” the West High freshman said.

But after listening to a “powerful, inspiring, and effective” Wednesday morning seminar at West High’s three-day bullying prevention workshop, she said she hopes other students recognize their words can be very hurtful.

Each school year, administrators, faculty, and staff at West High prioritize specific issues to address and brainstorm ways to have an effect on the students. This year, they chose the topics of bullying and harassment and invited Jodee Blanco, a New York Times bestselling author, to the school.

“We didn’t think our school was full of bullies, but we’re also not naïve,” said West High Principal Jerry Arganbright.

The goal of the workshop was for students and faculty to gain knowledge in an area they shouldn’t overlook, Arganbright said.

A team of four teachers formed a group to gauge how West High students viewed bullying and harassment by creating a student survey.

“Adults and students alike attribute [bullying] to typical teenage behavior,” said Stacey Strief, a social-studies teacher and member of the leadership team, noting that typically isn’t the case.

While the results found very few students felt directly affected by bullying and harassment, many students responded that they know of students who have been bullied, Strief said.

“What surprised me the most, was how many people said they were unsure whether or not they’d been bullied,” she said.

And that is one of the reasons they sought out Blanco.

Blanco is the author of Please Stop Laughing at Me, a memoir of her bullied childhood and adolescence. She detailed her own intense experiences with bullying, her struggles to overcome it, and the permanent damage it caused.

She was blunt with the full auditorium of students and made sure they realized bullying doesn’t only consist of cruel acts, but rather “the omission of compassion” as well.

“Not including someone is bullying, too,” Blanco said to the three different sessions of students.

Ignoring, excluding, and not talking to people is equally as damaging and can make young people start to question if something is wrong with them, she said. Language can also be a form of bullying.

Freshman Tziona Perry said that although she rarely sees acts of physical bullying, she does notice verbal harassment.

“A lot of people use the words ‘gay’ and ‘retarded’ and that really bugs me,” she said.

Though the general consensus among students was that bullying is not a major issue at West High, the faculty and administration wanted to take a preventative role by presenting the topic.

It is important for students and staff to have a similar understanding on bullying and harassment so they better address the problem, said social-studies teacher Jessi Dwyer.

“We want to develop a community and start the fire to feel welcome,” Dwyer said.

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