At first glance, it might seem like a token effort toward fighting a big problem.
Michaela Vick designed a poster aimed at discouraging bullying among students. The poster shows a girl crying because she has been bullied. Next to her is the image of a group of her friends offering support. The poster also shows the words “Stand up to bullying.’’
Michaela, 13, an eighth-grader at Whittier Middle School, entered her poster into an anti-bullying contest open to Merrimack Valley students and took first place. She told reporter Alex Lippa she was motivated to enter the contest because she has been bullied in the past. (See story Page 1.)
Michaela knows the pain felt by victims of bullies and wants to do her part to make it stop. Because she is an aspiring artist, she decided the poster contest was the best way to convey her message that bullying is wrong and every student is beautiful in their own way. They may not be the best looking, but they can find other ways to shine — through art work, academic accomplishments, sports, charitable work, even through a simple act of kindness toward another student.
“I made this drawing to say how bullying can hurt people, but we can all change it,” Michaela told the Gazette.
Many of us know the pain that comes from bullying. In the days before cell phones and other electronic devices, bullying would consist of kids in a hallway snickering at another student, maybe passing insulting notes. Sometimes a child would be picked on after school, pushed around and even beaten up.
They were all painful experiences, both emotionally and physically.
Bullying can hurt students’ emotions more today than in the past. Through cell phones and other devices, attackers can reach more than just a handful of classmates in the school hallway. Gossip becomes accepted as fact by dozens, even hundreds of students who receive a nasty email or other electronic message.
The torment can be unbearable for victims. There have been cases of students threatening suicide, even carrying out the threats. Lives have been lost, and others have been scarred almost beyond healing.
Haverhill schools have adopted an anti-bullying policy, as have schools in other communities. They are right to do so. The policy includes requirements that teachers intervene in bullying and report it to school officials, plus other rules that take such harassment seriously. A good complement to the rules is a project such as the poster contest, which shows bullying through the eyes of children, some of them victims.
Haverhill School Superintendent James Scully sent a letter of congratulations to Micheala for her winning poster and the message behind it. She and other contest participants deserve a pat on the back from the entire community. The brave artistic work of those students is one way to bring bullying into the spotlight and fight it. All of us — school officials, parents and others — should be inspired by those young artists and do our parts to protect the emotions of young people.
Their very lives may depend upon it.