5:15 p.m. PDT October 28, 2016
Mikayla Rethati experienced bullying most of her life.
Rethati, 15, started taking classes online with Oregon Connections Academy in first grade. She moved ahead quickly, skipping a grade and continuing as a straight-A student.
But she was teased a lot by fellow softball players who said, “Mikayla’s stupid; she doesn’t go to school.”
It wasn’t until they found out Rethati had the highest GPA on the team that they stopped teasing her.
“Bullying is not something that goes away on its own,” she said. “You have to face it head on and stick up for yourself. If you need to, go to a trusted adult — don’t try to just wait it out.”
Nearly 13 million children in the United States are estimated to be bullied each year — whether online, in school, on the bus, at home or on the streets — making it the most common form of violence young people face in the country, according to the social action campaign “The Bully Project.”
And of these students, about 3 million will be absent each month because they feel unsafe in school.
As part of October’s National Bullying Prevention Month, local schools are taking information like this and working to inform staff, students and their families about bullying behavior and rally them to be part of the change.
Rethati didn’t want to share her story until she had a happy ending. This year, she said, was the first year the bullying was “100 percent over.”
Rethati used her experience of being bullied as motivation.
When students made fun of her handwriting; she wrote more — eventually becoming a published poet by the age of 10.
“It doesn’t have to affect you as a person,” she said.
Nancy Willard, director of Embrace Civility in the Digital Age, is an expert on the subject, having reportedly written the first book ever published on cyber bullying.
She said the issue with bullying awareness month and comparable campaigns is that some schools will do a school-wide assembly and then nothing else.
“What schools are doing to prevent bullying is not working,” she said.
Willard said schools need to focus on positive school climates and provide training to all staff so they can appropriately address issues when they arise.
“Educators are not at fault for current lack of effectiveness; they are doing what they are told to do,” she said. “The problem is what they are being told to do is not going to be effective.”
According to the latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey, since 2009 there has been no decline in bullying nationally. About 20 percent of students nationally reported being bullied over the course of a school year.
In Oregon, in 2015, 29.9 percent of middle school and 19.9 percent of high school students said they had been bullied in the 30 days before the survey.
“This is a very high rate of bullying,” Willard said.
Students at Stephens Middle School in Salem have been addressing the topic of bullying behaviors in an instructional advisory class for months, but held special activities this month.
They participated recently in the nationwide “Mix It Up” campaign, which gets students to sit with peers they don’t know at lunch and get to know them.
Aimee Leaton, a teacher at Stephens, said the students were nervous at first, but eventually said they liked learning about other people and being able to talk about themselves.
“How students feel about school socially impacts how they interact academically,” Leaton said.
She said the Mix It Up lunch got the students thinking not only about the impact of their actions, but of others as individuals, rather than targets.
They asked questions like, “Do you have any siblings?” “What are your hobbies?” “If you had a time machine, where would you go in time and why?”
Crosby Bromley, another teacher at Stephens, said the “cafeteria can be a really negative place for some students,” making campaigns like these of utmost importance.
Almost 400 Stephens students also took the “Pawsitively Kind” bracelet pledge to think and speak kind things about themselves and others for 21 days. Should a student think, say or do something negative or harmful, they switch the bracelet to the other wrist.
The goal of the challenge is to keep the bracelet on one wrist for as long as possible without having to switch.
Students have come up with other ideas to address and prevent bullying that Stephens hopes to implement in the future, including peer partners and a place to submit issues called a “Bully Box.”
“Bullying can be perceived in many ways … it can be hard to pinpoint,” Bromley said. “We need to take it seriously … and make sure the kids feel safe.”
Facts and figures
- 70.6 percent of young people say they have seen bullying in their schools
- When bystanders intervene, bullying stops within 10 seconds 57 percent of the time
- 15 percent of high school students (grades 9–12) were electronically bullied in the past year
- The most common types of bullying are verbal and social.
- According to one large study, the following percentages of middle schools students had experienced these various types of bullying: Name calling (44.2 percent); teasing (43.3 percent); spreading rumors or lies (36.3 percent); pushing or shoving (32.4 percent); hitting, slapping, or kicking (29.2 percent); leaving out (28.5 percent); threatening (27.4 percent); stealing belongings (27.3 percent); sexual comments or gestures (23.7 percent); e-mail or blogging (9.9 percent)
- The reasons for being bullied reported most often by students were looks (55 percent), body shape (37 percent), and race (16 percent), though sexual orientation is also thought by some experts to be a large reason as well.