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Central Kitsap students take on bullies
“You’re the whitest black guy I’ve ever seen,” is something Kericho Corry hears a lot.
The junior at Central Kitsap High School said he doesn’t go a day without feeling harassed in the hallways.
“People think it’s funny to call me white because I take school seriously,” Corry, 17, said earlier this month.
He used to ignore the comments. It was easier than starting a confrontation. But now he tells the other students they aren’t being funny, even if they brush it off as a joke.
Corry passes along his experiences as a member of Where Everybody Belongs, a student group which led classroom presentations earlier this month on school harassment, intimidation and bullying. The group wants to make all students aware of the different kinds of bullying and what it does to kids, as well as encourage teens to stand up for others.
By August, all districts in the state are required to either create or update their anti-bullying policy.
But some students at Central Kitsap are taking the initiative.
“We’ve all seen every situation. We’ve all sat there and seen someone get picked on,” said Danielle Bloomfield, 17, another student in the group. “We want to make people feel more comfortable helping others.”
Because of the peer dynamics of students, teachers and administrators are sometimes the last to know when a teen feels harassed, or even unsafe, at school. Sometimes the conflicts are simply the ups and downs of social interaction. Sometimes, however, they are more than that.
The teens in Where Everybody Belongs take the view that the harassment is coming from students, so it should be students who take the lead in solving the problem.
This is mostly effective, students said, because often the harassment takes the form of joke, meant to impress other students. When those who are doing the harassing are made aware they aren’t being funny, and isn’t helping them to fit into the group, they aren’t apt to continue.
The 10 students, made up of mostly juniors, began meeting with Principal Stephen Coons and in-school suspension monitor Susan Leavell in January to prepare for the presentations. A similar program where students held presentations on harassment began in 2003 and ran through 2006 and Coons said they have “reinvigorated” it, adding points on the issue of cyber bullying. The group’s presentations included a portion where they each wore a mask and told the story of a harassed student.
“We want to fix it. It’s something I believe in,” said Dominic Stamerra, 17, adding that he has seen close friends get teased and bullied and wanted to help.
The group’s work is being assisted by a separate student project, a video where students talk about their experiences being harassed and discriminated against. The project, “Living the Dream: Day by Day,” includes students from other schools and intends to show students they aren’t alone in feeling threatened by these social situations as well as make students aware they they have the power to help.
“You get told by adults all the time, but it means more coming from students,” said Molly Mus, 18, who is one of the four students working on the project.
Often at school, teenagers joke around with one another as a way to fit in, but Corry said that joking about race is never acceptable even if the person’s intention is to be funny.
“I don’t know why someone would say it as a joke because you just don’t know who it could offend,” he said.
Coons said one way to distinguish when “normal peer conflict” crosses the line into bullying is frequency. However, racial jokes — even once — are considered harassment.
finding a solution
Although students can make a difference since they have either seen their peers get harassed and have experienced it themselves — or maybe in the past have even done the bullying — some think that more needs to be done to create an environment where harassment is not tolerated.
“There has been no discussion on this,” said JD Sweet, a history teacher at Central Kitsap High School. “There hasn’t been any kind of dialogue or plan.”
In 2002, the state adopted a law prohibiting harassment, intimidation and bullying in schools and in 2007, amended the law to include forms of electronic harassment, said Nathan Olson, spokesman for the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. In the school district’s policy, there is a section that outlines harassment, intimidation and bullying, stating that it can take forms including slurs, jokes, demeaning comments, physical attacks and written messages. Students who violate the policy are on “grounds for discipline, suspension and/or expulsion.”
During the 2009-2010 school year, 54 students were disciplined in the Central Kitsap district through either in-school or out-of-school suspension for harassment, intimidation or bullying incidents, district spokesman David Beil said.
During the same year in the Bremerton School District, 59 students were suspended or expelled for harassment.
Coons said enforcing the rules can be tricky, as harassment doesn’t leave a physical mark.
“It’s difficult for teachers to determine,” he said. “We put the pieces together.”
When it comes to discipline, determining the punishment is dicey as well.
“There is no easy answer,” he said.
Bremerton schools are likewise emphasizing harassment awareness. On Tuesday, the district hosted a presentation open to the community at Bremerton High School on cyber bullying. Patty Glaser, district spokeswoman, said that cyber bullying isn’t more common than other forms of bullying in the district, though it is an issue that is receiving more national attention.
“It happens outside the school day but bleeds into school,” Glaser said on the issue of harassment that takes place via text messages, emails and over social media networks.
Other schools in the Central Kitsap School District also have programs addressing harassment and bullying. At Klahowya Secondary School, counselors visit seventh and eighth grade classrooms and discuss bullying. In the other grades, it is covered in the basic curriculum, Principal Ryan Stevens said. He added that at the start of the school year there are presentations on harassment, intimidation and bullying. In the past, they have included conversations in classes, assemblies and videos.
At Olympic High School, there is a peer mediation program in place where students have been trained to be conflict mediators by the Dispute Resolution Center of Kitsap County. Often the disagreements that could take a more aggressive turn can be solved through mediation, said Bob Barnes, principal at Olympic High School.
Some students at Central Kitsap High School are working on a video project where students share their take on the school climate.
Corry, Mus, Brandon Carlson, 17, and Cierra Bussard, 17, have turned their senior projects into a dialogue on discrimination in schools. All three aside from Mus are juniors and have experienced some form of harassment and discrimination. The students plan to interview other students at multiple schools to get an array of responses and will present the video at school before the end of May. They also have plans to present it to Erin Jones, assistant superintendent of student achievement with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, who has an interest in their project.
“We’re not trying to change the world,” said Carlson. “We’re just trying to create awareness.”