Tag Archives: Anti-Bullying

Breaking the Silence

Tires screech as a car full of teenage boys swings around to get a closer look, barely decipherable bellowed comments ringing across the parking lot. I clutch my small bag of groceries a little more tightly, willing myself to maintain a blank face and an even pace, wishing for the first time in a number of years that I didn’t enjoy parking far away from the store entrance so I could get in a bit of a walk. My stomach clenches with the familiar tension, and I wait for the usual relaxation. It doesn’t come. And suddenly I know why.

It had been many years since I had been mistaken for a woman and subjected to random drive-by harassment. The last time it happened, I had been reasonably confident that once they realized I wasn’t female, they would drive off, perhaps getting in one last parting shot, and leave me alone to think on the notion that actual women don’t have that comforting expectation. This time, however, I had a new awareness of both the numbers of transgender people and the constant danger they are in. If these kids were to decide that their having mistaken me for a woman meant I had crossed some gender line and deserved to be beaten up or worse, there wasn’t going to be much I could do about it.

The whole incident didn’t last more than half a minute but has stuck with me. No group of people is at more risk for being subjected to hate crimes and violence than transgender people, as the litany of a spreadsheet on the Transgender Day of Remembrance website attests: Strangled. Shot and dragged. Stoned, beaten and burned. Stabbed. Shot to death by her brother. Shot. Shot. Shot… For many years, I have had something of a sense of what it’s like to be a woman and subjected to drive-by harassment. Now I have also something of a sense of what it’s like to be transgender and live with the awareness that at any moment, without warning, life as you know it could end.

The other day, one of my Humanities 7 students did a brilliant presentation on the blink effect. In the time it takes to blink, she told us, you form your first impression of people and make your first judgment. Very often, students and classes wrestling with this concept will use the information to affirm the need to be aware of the blink effect and work hard to get past that moment and genuinely get to know people as they really are. This student took it one level deeper. She had found a plastic surgeon’s site that attempted to convince people that the best way to combat the blink effect was to do everything possible to ensure that your own personal body and face led to positive judgments the split second people meet you. She was, quite properly, outraged. The best way to combat the blink effect, she stated, was to stop caring what other people think of how you look and just feel good the way you are. The class was completely in agreement.

How much better our world would be if more people would work not only to overcome their own tendency to make quick judgments but also to strengthen themselves against the quick judgments of others.

Yet, as I make that statement, and even though I believe deeply in its truth, I have the uncomfortable sense that it’s still not enough. Far too many voices have been permanently silenced simply because of who those people are and the snap judgments people have made about them – and not just transgender people, of course. Far too many additional voices are effectively silenced as people hide their true selves. And we are living in times when legislation has actually been proposed permitting harassing, hateful speech as long as the speaker can claim a religious basis to their statements. I know there are people whose religious beliefs are that LGBT people will not go to heaven, and of course I accept and even support their right to those beliefs. But I cannot support that (fortunately much smaller) subset of people who use religion as an excuse to deny people their fundamental human right to respect.

All that being said, we are also living in times when gay marriage has become acceptable to the majority of Americans, where the visibility of transgender people is on the rise, where gay people (if not yet transgender people) can both serve their country and be open about who they are. And we are living in times when young people are growing up more aware than ever of the rich diversity of people around them, more inclined to respect that diversity, and more inclined to affirm themselves in the face of those who are less respectful. So on this year’s Day of Silence, I give thanks for progress being made and for my students’ part in that progress, and I recommit to working toward a day when the Day of Silence is no longer needed and only exists in history books.

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Filed under Gender, On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective

Community.

At Stoneleigh-Burnham School we talk about community all the time. In Admissions, we talk about how close knit our community is and how vital it is to the function of our school. We talk about the strong relationships we foster between our faculty and students, and about the fact that everyone, even the Head of School, will know you by name.

As a school, we talk about the importance of taking care of our community, of being careful with each others feelings and being respectful. The mission statement of Stoneleigh-Burnham School describes creating a community that “inspires girls to pursue meaningful lives based on honor, respect and intellectual curiosity.  Each student is challenged to discover her best self and graduate with the confidence to think independently and act ethically, secure in the knowledge that her voice will be heard.”  The Honor Code further encourages and expects our students to be guided by the following: “Respect for others in all my words, expressions and actions.  I will be kind and polite and will refrain from hurtful remarks about appearance, race, religion, family, intelligence and sexuality.”

During the opening of each school year every member of the community signs the SBS Honor Code which hangs in the Capen Room as a daily reminder of the commitment we have made to ourselves, our community and our school.

The mission statement and the honor code are part of the fabric of who we are as a school. They help to guide students, faculty and staff in the decisions they make each and every day. However, in light of the recent acts of bullying across the nation, Massachusetts has passed an anti-bullying law which requires schools to write and uphold a policy which specifically addresses bullying.

Yesterday, during Housemeeting, Head of School Sally Mixsell presented “Stoneleigh-Burnham School’s Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plan” to the student body. The presentation detailed the steps which will be taken should someone report something that has occurred. The plan is intended to (1) prevent bullying and cyber-bullying among our community members, (2) to encourage community members to have confidence in the School’s procedures and to come forward promptly whenever a student is subject to conduct that is prohibited by this or any other School policy; and (3) to implement appropriate discipline and other corrective measures when they are found to be warranted.

So why would this prompt me to write about our community? What makes Stoneleigh-Burnham School different than other schools in Massachusetts? The policy itself is similar in nature to those policies being presented at public and private schools across Massachusetts. The difference for Stoneleigh-Burnham is in our community.

I see small acts of kindness and joy here every day.

The day our students left for break I walked down the hallway and found a basket of handmade treats with a note. I picked up the note, written in the early morning hours by Monica, a member of our facilities staff, and it read

“Thank you all for helping me keep UMB clean. Have a great vacation. Please enjoy a pop and candy cane.”

Not only did this bring a smile to my face, it reminded me why I love this school. The little things we do for each other that help to brighten each others day.

Things like John, our security guard who comes in a bit early each evening to shuttle our riders from the barn to the main building at the end of the day.

Or Elizabeth and Allie, two of our 9th grade students who diligently cut out snowflakes for each and every office, dorm room and classroom door one weekend and spent the better part of their free time writing notes on each one and hanging them up as a surprise for the students, faculty and staff on Monday morning.

Or the way each time I take a group of students ice skating they make sure no one is left behind. They link arms and hold hands and encourage those who are still learning to skate. I’ve yet to see a single girl left behind to skate on her own…even if she’s never been on the ice before.

It’s things like walking onto the middle school hallway to see “I love you” scrawled anonymously on the white boards of every room on the hall, or hearing the last two students arrive, at 9:35 on Monday evening from their winter break and having the entire hallway flood downstairs to help carry their bags and welcome them back.

These are the reasons our bullying prevention plan will be different than those at other schools. The written words, discussed in further detail in our Head of School’s post on the topic here, will be the same as those written at schools across the state. For us, it’s the community behind those words that makes the difference.

– Laura Lavallee, Associate Director of Admissions

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Filed under Admissions, School Happenings, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Bullying Prevention and Intervention Policy

As is now widely known, Governor Deval Patrick signed the Act Relative to Bullying in Schools in May 2010. This new law prohibits bullying and retaliation in all public and private schools in Massachusetts.  Each school has been required to develop its own Bullying Prevention and Intervention Policy by December 31, 2010.  The law mandates reporting of any incidence of bullying, cyber-bullying or retaliation witnessed or heard of by adult members of the school community; it encourages students and parents to report suspected cases as well. Further, schools are now required to hold students accountable for bullying situations that occur on OR OFF campus, thereby monitoring more closely the dangerous effects of cyber-bullying that affect a student’s educational experience.

At SBS we now have our plan in place, and on Tuesday, January 4th I presented it to the student body.  The following day all advisory groups talked about the plan and how it affects our community; a spokesperson from each group shared important ideas from her advisory’s discussion at this morning’s Housemeeting. Moving forward into the next steps we will continue in a town meeting format to come to some consensus about how we as a community want to move forward in response to the policy.

Several students approached me after Housemeeting to say how happy they are that we’re opening this broad-based conversation around the issues of mean behavior and bullying. I agree with them.  The advent of this law has afforded us a good teaching tool; helped us clarify language around bullying, cyber-bullying and retaliation; and encouraged our continuous efforts in tolerance, conflict management, cross-cultural understandings.

Our new policy has triggered some great conversation and a lot of soul-searching.  There is much we have to be thankful for in being a small school, not the least of which is the opportunity to know and trust one another enough to report events that are hurtful or mean — as well as take the time to note many random acts of kindness (for some great examples of this, see Laura Lavallee’s blog post).  And still, despite those reports and subsequent conversations, those hurtful and mean moments happen on occasion.  Putting them into the context of being the kinds of moments that, if repeated, can lead to bullying, we are all asked to think about how we can move closer to becoming a community that works even more deliberately together to hold each other accountable for our words and actions. Hopefully, we will come to consensus over the next few weeks and sensitize ourselves to the realization that our “throw-away” words or gestures are not always taken lightly by their recipients.  Hopefully, we will never deal with the kind of pain felt in South Hadley and other communities because of an unaware or insensitive school. At the least, we are doing everything we can think of to work against such a possibility, and the conversation is rich as a result.

– Sally Mixsell, Head of School

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Filed under In the Classroom, School Happenings, Thoughts from the Head of School