made him do it?
On Monday, March 5, Andrew "Andy" Williams, 15, reportedly brought a gun to school and killed two students at his high school and wounded 13 others. Andy now sits in a San Diego detention center awaiting trial.
No one knows for sure why Andy "lost it," but bullying may have been the culprit. Friends and acquaintances say Andy -- a thin, small boy -- was often called "freak," and "dork." Someone recently stole his skateboard and his shoes, and was apparently beaten by older boys. In his old neighborhood in Maryland, bullies vandalized his home and ripped apart his treehouse.
Bullying is among the forces that some people think drove Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris to kill at Columbine, and may have influenced the 14 other shootings at American schools. Some people say they feel sorry for Andy. Others say bullying is just a normal part of high school life and not an excuse for lashing out.
1999 Gallup Youth Survey, conducted among
After the release of the survey, NewsHour Extra sat down with students at George Washington Middle School in Arlington, Virginia to discuss bullying in their school.
Bullies are a big issue
"Bullying is a big issue with certain people, it depends on the person. There are certain people you want to stay away from, you know not to mess with them," says Stephanie, 13.
"When girls bully each other you usually don't know it, it is done in a very subtle way, but it is effective. Guys will just openly be mean to each other. They will just make fun of each other whether they are serious or not" explains Daniel, 13.
"You get used to it after a while. It will start off with people making fun of each other, and then the person who is getting made fun of says something and it turns into a fight."
Keeping away from fights
The students estimate about one big fight every other week.
"There was one fight where this girl was pulling this other girl's hair and she had blood all over her face. Everybody was watching and saying fight, fight, fight, fight," recalls Stephanie.
Julio, 16, says that it's hard to stop the fights once they start. "You don't want your friends getting hurt, you try to stick up for them, but then you get blamed for it. Everyone wants to see a fight start."
Jandell, 13 agrees. "If you see somebody having a conflict, say a conflict is over here and you are sitting over there, you could just be watching, and then somebody could ask you, what are you looking at? You just turn your head, you just mind your own business."
There are people who report bullies, but it's hard, says Clotiel, 14. She says that if you keep reporting someone, people start to ignore you. "Some people are constantly reporting bullies and then the teachers and counselors don't take them seriously. They think that it is impossible for this one person out of everybody to continuously bully."
Hall monitors are in place to help prevent fights, but often times it's impossible to stop a fight once the swinging has begun. "One of the hall monitors will get on one of the students who is fighting, but as soon as they let them go, the students will go at each other again," says Martha, 14.
What about the teachers?
"The teachers are afraid of what the students will do to them," said, Julia, 13.
"Yeah, one time a teacher went down. He tried to get in the middle of it and he ended up on the ground," added Stephanie.
mediation doesn't always work
Peer mediation, a program designed to help students resolve conflicts among themselves, was adopted to help combat bullying at GW. But the students complain that little has been done to enforce it.
"I am in the program, but they haven't done it in so long. They made several referrals, but no one does anything," says Stephanie.
Furthermore, many students are dismayed by the structure of the program. "In peer mediation, you get mediated by people who, often times, were just watching you fight, so you really don't take them seriously," explained Jandell, 13.
Julia thinks it would be a good idea for people from high school to come over an act as mediators, "If you get people who haven't seen the fight, and don't go to your school, say juniors and seniors, I think that would work much better."
Daniel adds: "I think that we really can't prevent bullying, but when it happens, and people get into fights, we need a real counselor who will actually sit down with you and discuss a problem, not necessarily try to solve it, but at least have everyone make amends and be happy."
Julio thinks "there should be a program where mentors can take us around and keep us out of trouble. We should have field trips after school and stuff like that to keep us out of trouble. After school is when most of the trouble occurs."
Finding punishments that work
Students can avoid suspension if peer mediation is successful, however, most students who are involved in fights receive in school suspension or get sent home, depending on their prior offenses.
Clotiel pointed out that school suspension was not very effective, "I see people playing basketball outside. They have fun. People think of it as a good place to go rather than a punishment. And if they are at home they can basically do whatever they want to."
Many students feel that school suspension is useless unless parents take a direct role in disciplining their children. "If you get in a fight and you go home and your parents say, no big deal, maybe you think it's o.k.," Juan, age 14.
Clotiel adds that many of the students who get in trouble a lot are not punished at home, "they are not forced to think about the consequences of their actions, so it is not a big deal to them."
When parents are not available, sometimes the students have to find someone else to talk to. Jandell confides in his uncle. "When I have a problem I feel comfortable talking to my uncle. I don't feel comfortable talking to my mom or dad about school things. I feel more comfortable talking to someone who I can get a good response from. I think kids need somebody who they can relate to. Someone who is younger."
All the students agree that being a teenager is hard work. And no one can do it alone.
The recent school shootings underscore the need to talk about bullies and communication within the school. These conversations can be fun--they remind us that no matter how different we are, we can all agree that violence belongs in the Shakespeare tragedies we have to read, and not in our lives.
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