Gibraltar Students Start Club to Stand Up to Bullies

There are a lot of ways that kids respond to being bullied. Some lash out at their bully. Some tell their teacher or their parents, hoping that adults can make the bullying stop. Some simply accept the tauntings and teasings they receive from their classmates and tuck them away inside.

But there are not a lot of kids who, in response to seeing their friends being bullied, would look for a way to respond that’s both proactive and constructive, something that might elicit real change.

That’s what makes Gibraltar Middle School students Rachel Follingstad, Gracie Richards, Kathleen Jackson, Verena Tesnow and their new Bullying Prevention Club (B.P.C.) unique. It’s created and led by students, and that might just be enough to actually stop bullies in their tracks.

“When bullying’s going on in the classroom, the teacher will give them time after school or detention or something, but they’ll keep on doing it,” said Follingstad. “But if your friends go against it, you want to keep your friends and everything, so you probably stop.”

The B.P.C. just held its first meeting on Feb. 21, so it’s a bit early to tell if the club is having an impact. But the students said they’ve received a lot of interest from their peers, and just the fact that a club is being created is enough to get principal Kirk Knutson fired up.

“What I really like is I have kids who are stepping forward and they want to be part of the solution,” said Knutson. “To be able to say to those girls you’re doing it right and we’re going to empower you bolsters their courage and it gives them, if you will, a little armor against that cruelty that exists in the world.”

The students are currently in the process of developing the curriculum and programs they’ll be using at their Thursday meetings to try and turn their peers into bullying watchdogs. The hope is that a critical mass of students saying no to bullies will create a culture where it simply ceases to exist.

“There’ll be people in class who will tell bullies to stop, but it doesn’t work,” said Follingstad. “So if we get more people, maybe we could overpower that, and it’d stop.”

Of course, the complete eradication of bullying at Gibraltar is likely too much to hope for. And even if bullying stops at school, there other arenas, like cyberspace, where adults and peers aren’t around to temper a bully’s impulses.

“I have parents who will call me and say so-and-so posted such-and-such on my child’s Facebook, and that happened at their home,” said Knutson. “I’ve called other parents and said this is not right, and they’ve said what do you have to do with it? Well guess what, they’re going to be here Monday morning, and it doesn’t go away.”

Moira Farrell of the Door County Adventure Center leads an anti-bullying presentation which was shown at seven schools in February, including Gibraltar. She said technology has made bullying more prevalent simply because it’s easier to bully through text messages or things like Facebook.

“My question for those sorts of things is why are kids staying on there?” said Farrell. “And if they are, why don’t they tell their parents? But being bullied is embarrassing. So the fact that people aren’t talking about it is real, and the reason they’re not talking about it is because it’s embarrassing.”

In her presentation, Farrell talks about the different roles involved in bullying, and how each of them presents a choice. The best thing kids can do, said Farrell, is to recognize that they have the ability to respond to bullying themselves, even if that response is something as simple as walking away and not indulging their bully.

“Unless we give kids the ability to deal with it, they can go tell as many adults as they want, but at some point in their life they’re not going to be around adults. They’re going to have to be the adult themselves,” said Farrell. “That’s probably one of the hardest pieces to ingrain in their heads.”

That’s why measured, constructive responses like the B.P.C. are so important. They’re proof that kids can be kids, but still find it in them to act like adults when they need to.

“Ultimately, we want people who are going to self-regulate,” said Knutson. “It shouldn’t always be that someone is telling someone else what to do and how to behave.”