By Clara Kobashigawa
Bullying has always been a prominent issue in high schools across America, but the nature of this vicious act has changed in recent years. Students used to be able to find refuge in their homes as a temporary escape from the physical harassment of bullies on school campuses.
However, in today’s society, bullies lurk behind computer screens and constantly attack their victims in the quiet, yet powerful form of cyberbullying.
Acalanes is taking action against this problem by educating students about digital citizenship. During the first quarter, students were taught about their online presence. On Thursday January 5 during third period, the school took its second step in educating students about digital citizenship by focusing on cyberbullying.
The presentation included a video of an interview with Emily Bazelon, author of Sticks and Stones, a book aimed at helping parents, students, and teachers deal with bullying. In the YouTube clip, Bazelon discussed how parents and students could put an end to bullying. There was also an interactive discussion where teachers asked students about their personal experiences with cyberbullying.
Associate Principal Travis Bell created the presentation with the approval of the teachers. According to Bell, the goal of the presentation was to have students be more aware of how they can protect themselves and foster a positive environment online.
“Cyberbullying includes small put downs, negative and obscene comments, and constant harassment,” Bell said. “The goal of the presentation was to call out cyberbullying, explain what it is, and influence students to step in.”
During the interactive part of the presentation, teachers got a wide range of participation from their students.
In Spanish teacher Elizabeth Gough’s class, many students freely spoke their thoughts on the issue. Her students came up with ways to stand up to cyberbullies and how to deal with hurtful comments online.
On the contrary, in Heidi Bruce and Chris Clark’s Physical Education classes, students were less active during the discussion. Although the students may not have been very vocal about the topic, the teachers believed, more importantly, that the students were listening to the presentation.
“I think everyone knows what was being said,” Bruce said. “There is no way you haven’t seen cyberbullying or haven’t experienced it at this point in high school.”
Clark agrees with Bruce that students were absorbing the message.
“I think it’s important that we remind students how important it is to be good stewards of humanity, be good people, and try to encourage that every chance that we get,” Clark said.
Even though sophomore Sam Sweeney believes that there was no new information on the slides, she thought the presentation was still impactful.
“After hearing the presentation, people will reflect more on what they put on social media and what they put just out for the world to see,” Sweeney said.
Although many students believe the presentation was helpful, students such as junior Bryan Bamford believe that it will not have an effect on the student body.
“The way teachers approached the presentation was awkward. There was a slide show which asked very vague questions in front of the whole class, so it wasn’t effective at all,” Bamford said.
A majority of Acalanes students are not concerned with bullying at the high school. Sophomore Dominic Schottland is one of such students who believe that cyberbullying is not a prominent form of bullying.
“I have not seen too much cyberbullying, I’ve only heard about it. I’d say that our school is better about cyberbullying than other schools, even those in our district,” Schottland said.
Although students such as Schottland have not seen cyberbullying, sophomore Megan Self has witnessed it among friends. According to Self, two friends who have previously fought in person took their fight to the cyberworld. One of the friends began to post rude comments on the other’s Instagram post. Self intervened by standing up to the bully and reporting the comment.
Despite Self’s experience with cyberbullying, she still believes it is not a prominent issue due to the accepting nature provided by Acalanes’ location.
“I feel that while it is present at Acalanes, it isn’t a big issue,” Self said. “I feel that we are in a bubble of kindness in the Bay Area, especially at Acalanes.”
Sophomore Maggie Curless also witnessed cyberbullying on Instagram. According to Curless, there were rude and hurtful comments on a girl’s Instagram post.
“A girl posted a picture where she wore makeup and people called her names and made her feel insecure,” Curless said. “I felt bad for her because you can wear what you want to wear and people shouldn’t be hateful towards someone who wants to express theirself. I took a stand and reported the comments.”
District and Acalanes administrators see cyberbullying as a small issue on campuses. Acalanes Union High School District Human Resources Associate Superintendent Amy McNamara handles expulsions and suspensions and has only witnessed a few cases of cyberbullying this year. McNamara believes the amount of cyberbullying incidents this year is more than what has been reported in the past.
“If it is 11 at night and you see a girl harassing somebody online, kids don’t always report it to the school because it occurred outside of school,” McNamara said.
Bell agrees with McNamara that cyberbullying does occasionally occur at Acalanes, but does not believe Acalanes has an abnormally high amount of cyberbullying occurrences.
“Cyberbullying is a problem everywhere. However, I would say Acalanes is on par with other school who have a similar profile as we do,” Bell said.
Although opinions still differ on whether cyberbullying is a serious issue at Acalanes, a majority of students at Acalanes believe that posting hateful or rude comments online is not “cool” and that students should stand up to the cyberbullies.
According to Self, everyone should be an upstander and do the right thing when it comes to cyberbullying.
“I feel bystanders are cowards, whether it’s due to fear of ridicule or fear of being targeted,” Self said. “I just feel that there is no excuse for not defending someone from being harassed.”
Sophomore Julian Camilleri believes that cyber-aggressors attack their victims because they do not have the courage to say hateful things to the victim in person.
“I know people will not say these types of messages to their face but they will do it online,” Camilleri said.
According to a few students, the social media apps Instagram and Twitter are where most cyberbullying occurs. Curless believes that the ability to post long comments and pictures makes Instagram more prone to cyber bullying.
Junior Olivia Sabbadini thinks that Twitter has the most problems in regards to cyberbullying.
“It is easy to tweet mean things on Twitter because it is simple and easy to use and others can retweet and favorite them,” Sabbadini said. “You can tweet pictures, videos, and words, so there is a combination there that is very enticing to cyberbullies.”
Even though these apps can lead to cyberbullying, it appears that Acalanes students are making the right choices when on social media. Even though cyberbullying incidents do not occur frequently, Bell is still passionate about stopping this virus and believes that if one student is getting cyberbullied, that is one student too many.