My daughter was a victim.
A victim of bullying and harassment.
Starting in the 3rd grade in a New York City public school my daughter became the center of attention of a group of girls who were determined to make sure she didn’t have any friends. She was forced to eat alone by those bullying her because they ensured she had no friends. She sat alone in class. The only time she was allowed to have “friends” by the bullies was during group work. My daughter is exceptionally smart and driven. She has always taken school very seriously and the bullies knew that. Group work was easier with her in the group. She would end up doing all the work and the level 4 or “A” was virtually guaranteed.
After 3 years of this, and with the teachers trying to address it (with the bullies getting sneakier over time), my daughter gave in emotionally and physically. She became very depressed. She stopped eating. She started vomiting repeatedly. She was hospitalized.
You may hear this story and feel bad for her and worry about her, but I see it differently. Our family rallied around her. The Department of Education provided a home-based tutor to allow her to be removed from the situation temporarily. The following year she was in 8th grade, at a new school, and became valedictorian of her class. Now she is a sophomore, holding a 99.74% overall average – taking AP and honors classes at one of New York City’s top high schools.
She has not healed perfectly, but she is stronger than ever. And more importantly, she is using her experiences to help others.
I am a teacher. For 17 years I have chosen to teach in disadvantaged communities where poverty and low graduation rates have plagued generations of families. The students I have worked with have their share of family struggles and bullying surfaces no matter how hard the school works to avoid it. I work hard to support my students in understanding how their behaviors affect others, but sometimes inappropriate behaviors surface and a student is affected by that behavior. This is where my daughter has come in.
She has come in to my school on more than one occasion and spoken to groups of students, sharing her experiences, and even revealing depths of it I was previously unaware of. Hearing that she had wanted to die and that she had tried to hurt herself for the first time hurt me, but I could see she understood her audience. She was sharing those very private secrets that she hadn’t even told me, the one she tells everything to, in order to try and save someone else from going through it.
Her compassion is amazing and far beyond her years. She understands that as a victim you feel very alone and every time she speaks to a group of students she is reminding those that have been bullied, or are being bullied, that they are not alone- that it is possible to go through the dark times, come out strong, and on the way to being healed.
This year she had a unique experience. A 7th grade girl was struggling after being a victim at a previous school, and after meeting with her family, I realized they couldn’t understand that she could heal. My daughter was off from school that day so I called and she came right in. She told the girl and her family her story. They all shared tears and occasional smiles. The family asked her questions about the healing process. And in the end, they all took a deep breath and knew, maybe for the first time, that their daughter, although still healing, would improve and be strong again.
My school, Inwood Academy for Leadership Charter School, is taking a tough stance on bullying and harassment. We are trying to work with a restorative justice system so students can learn how their behaviors affect others. Bringing my daughter in to speak is just one unique way we are trying to support our students in learning and growing to be better, stronger members of society. This fall we hosted our first Bully Awareness Neighborhood Walk. With a huge turnout of staff, families and students, we were able to exhibit leadership and bring more awareness to this very serious issue in schools and in our community. I am thrilled that my daughter is just one more way my school is helping to address bullying and harassment.
More schools need to step up, and help empower victims to be the support systems that other students need to survive, and become stronger through adversity.
I am in awe of my daughter. She would tell you she gets her strength from me, but in the last 5 years I would say I have gathered more strength from watching her grow and heal than she has even gotten from me. She has gone from being the victim to being on the front lines of helping others understand that their words and actions can hurt others and helps those in need heal. She is an advocate. An advocate in a way that we as teachers can only talk about. She lived it. She survived it. She is helping to save others.
Our family is proud of her. I am proud of her as her father and as an educator. She is having an impact I only wish I could have. And I love her for that.