Life on bullying’s front line

Student recounts struggles with schoolyard bullies

Parksville resident Rebecca Classen remembers being told she was stupid and worthless so often that she started to believe it.

“Because it seemed like other people hated me it seemed okay to hate myself,” the 16-year-old said.

Classen remembers getting bullied physically in elementary school in Saskatoon and serious emotional bullying started in middle school. One of the worst situations she remembers was when about 30 students surrounded her, mocking and making fun of her clothes and her looks. Video footage showed three teachers witnessing the attack and ignoring it, something Classen said was not uncommon. Her parents were notified of the incident by the school.

“They didn’t want to show my mom because they saiad [the video] was so horrific that she wouldn’t want to see it.”

That incident made Classen hit rock bottom, where she stayed for a number of years, she said.

Her parents decided to make the move to Vancouver Island, partly to take Classen out of her unhappy situation. When she started Ballenas Secondary School (BSS) she said she had a “very deep rooted anxiety that came along with going to school” and so would cry and complain about having to go. Her parents agreed to homeschooling, a move that would change her life.

“For the first time in my life I actually enjoyed school,” she said.

Classen went from a poor student to an A student, because she no longer felt constant anxiety. It turns out she was smart, which proved her tormentors wrong, made her feel great and gave her an epiphany, she said.

“I literally just woke up one morning and I decided I was going to be okay,” she said.

Classen said kids who are being bullied should keep their heads up because it will get better. And she recommends telling someone about the problem.

Shannon Confortin, a counsellor at BSS would agree. Although bullying is not a huge problem at the school, it is there, she said. But she’s never seen it to the extent that happened to Classen.

“I’d be shocked if that happened here,” she said, referring to the group of students who surrounded Classen.

Most of the bullying that happens at Ballenas is electronic, namely Facebook and texting, and the school handles each situation on a case by case basis, Confortin explained. The strategies the school implements have been successful, Confortin said, as the majority of cases have reported improvement. But that’s when the issues are reported.

“Some students are afraid of talking about it because of anxiety that the issue will get worse, but that’s usually not the case,” she said. “It does get better.”

And in order to better educate students on bullying and harassment, its impacts and preventative measures, youth leaders at the school will be trained later this month. They will then present to Grade 9 and 10 classes, and most likely at the middle and elementary school level down the road. Confortin said when students talk to students about issues like these, they tend to listen better. The district’s director of instruction, Gillian Wilson, said each school has their own tools and the district has been working with an industry professional educating students and staff on risk assessment for years.

The Ministry of Education is now working with the same professional to education schools in the province. Wilson said it’s very important that children and parents report bullying, but it’s also important that people distinguish the difference between bullying and having a conflict with another student.

“The word bullying is sometimes used because [the students] don’t know how else to express that. It’s finding out whether a child is in conflict with a friend and they are having an argument… whereas bullying someone is doing something with the intent to hurt someone.”

Confortin said the school looks at both sides of the problem, because often the child doing the bullying has their own issues, has been bullied in the past or suffers with mental health issues for example.

Classen said one suicide is too much, and therefore students should have to face criminal charges if they choose to bully. She would like to tell bullies to try and put themselves in their victim’s position.

“Take a step back, maybe they’re different, maybe you think they’re weird but they may think you’re weird too. Not everyone has to love each other and want to be best friends, but everybody should like each other and should respect each other.

To report a case of bullying anonymously, and to find other resources on bullying, visit Ballenas’ website www.ballenascounselling.weebly.com and click on bullying.