Voices of Youth: Are schools doing enough to address bullying?

Over the years, bullying in schools has become a significant problem that has affected many teens' mental states. 

Before COVID-19, many schools had bullying problems, but not as severe as they are now. According to new data from the National Center for Education Statistics, “a higher percentage of middle schools reported bullying on campus at least once per week in 2021-22, with 28% saying it took place at least once a week, compared with 15% for high/secondary schools and 10% for elementary schools.” 

During my early school years before COVID, I didn't experience much bullying, except when I was made fun of for my race. I barely participated in middle school due to COVID and family struggles, but I did spend a couple of months in school for eighth grade. During that time, I was instantly bullied for my weight, and people called me ugly. I usually didn't care and ignored it because I was overall happy with who I was and how I looked.

After moving from that school during the summer, I kept thinking about what they told me, and I started believing them. I tried to hide my body and started wearing makeup to see if people would like me better. 

Damaged self-image

But I transferred to Lee High School, and on the second day, I was already being made fun of. People would often call me “fat” and “ugly” or talk down on me. 

I started feeling uncomfortable at school because many people made fun of me. I began to hate who I was even more, and I kept doing anything I could to change that because I cared about how people viewed me. 

During the summer, I stopped eating, hoping to look better, but I soon suffered many consequences. I passed out many times from the lack of food because of how many days I would go without eating. One time, I passed out and had to be taken to the hospital. 

My family would tell me to eat, but it became harder to do that because I always thought about what people bullied me for. I still struggle with eating, and now I have some health issues due to that, all so that I would not be considered fat. If I had never been bullied, I believe I would have never developed this disorder and struggle.

Changes to Matt’s Law

A 2019 survey  showed that over 20% of Michigan high school students get bullied. In Michigan, “Matt's Law,” which became law in 2011 and has been updated since then, requires schools to have a bullying policy in place and to report bullying incidents to administrators, and the school board has to get regular reports.  

Also, according to the Michigan Advance story “Michigan’s OK2SAY program shows a rise in school violence tips,” Michigan’s school violence prevention reporting system received 7,415 tips in 2022, according to the Michigan State Police, a 19% increase from the previous year.

With many schools not taking students' mental health and their environment seriously, many students feel unsafe going to school because of bullying. The amount of harsh bullying students have to experience affects their self-esteem and their mental health. When students are not in a healthy mental state, the work they produce isn't going to be as good as it would be if they were in a positive mental state. 

At Lee High School, two teachers spoke about things happening and what they think needs to change. Both teachers enjoy working and connecting with kids on a personal level. Still, Lisa Hofman, an English teacher at Lee High School, believes she needs more time to connect with the students on a personal level to support them to the best of her ability. 

Ted Cherry, a math teacher at Lee High School, also said he doesn't know what's happening in these kids' personal lives outside of school and what affects their moods and actions in his class. 

At Lee High School, two teachers spoke about things happening and what they think needs to change. Hofman, an English teacher, and Cherry said they don't really notice bullying, but when they do, they always want to ensure the victim is safe. Then, they will look at the situation and, if needed, take it to administrators. Both also said they have never seen fighting in Lee High School as bad as it is now. 

Better support system

Hofman believes teachers need more training so they can notice and address bullying better. 

“With the amount of students teachers have in high school, it’s really difficult to support and connect with them all on a personal level,” she says. “I have had up to 160 students at a time in my classes, and with the pressure to make sure all of my students are learning the required curriculum, it makes it impossible also to be tuned in to their social needs and issues.”  

Hofman believes schools must invest in more trained social workers and counselors to support students’ mental, emotional, and social health.  She also is concerned about how students’ social media use can contribute to bullying.   

Godfrey-Lee's Dean of Students Brett Lambert says he believes the school offers enough resources to support its students. 

“We are doing enough, but we could always be doing more,” Lambert says. He believes students' biggest problem is their social media and phone usage, which he says takes their commitment and attention away from school.

Overall, schools need a better support system for their students, so all students can feel safe and supported during their time at school. Bullying also needs to be treated more seriously and taken care of better. 

I advise students to speak up if they are getting bullied. Your voices matter. If students aren't feeling supported by staff, communicate with your parents or a trusted adult. If teens still feel unsupported, they should reach out to Ok2Say, which supports victims who are getting bullied.

Teresa Blackwood is a junior at Lee High School. She tries to be open and accepting of all those around her. Because of her own life experiences and having a good heart, she feels deeply for all those around her and wants to speak up about injustices when the opportunity arises.

To learn more about Rapid Growth's Voices of Youth project and read other installments in the series, click here. This series is made possible via underwriting sponsorships from the Steelcase Foundation, Frey Foundation, PNC Foundation, and Kent ISD.
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