Last Friday morning, more than 50 students tossed hoops, dribbled basketballs and hustled feet in the Hoonah High School gymnasium. But this wasn’t a gym exercise. It was a part of a three-day anti-bullying awareness program.
“It takes different kinds of forms. It can be very subtle; it can be very physical and upfront in your face. It can happen on the playground, it can happen in the home,” according to coach Andy Lee.
In the last 10 years, Lee has been to more than 30 villages in Southeast and the Northwest Arctic to raise awareness about bullying and substance abuse.
School started last Wednesday, and Lee spent the first three days of the school year teaching the students about teamwork, career-building and anti-bullying awareness. He uses basketball to teach these fundamentals.
“Kids need to be resilient enough to resist bullies, and people have to allow them to stand up and say ‘no’ to it, and I think it’s important to address it from both ends of the spectrum,” Lee said.
Hoonah High School is the 13th school he’s visited in the past 15 weeks. Friday evening he returned home to Sitka, where he is the basketball coach at the local high school.
“Well, I think the key thing is that I come and go, but the issues remain,” Lee said.
According to results from the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, ninth graders were most likely to report being bullied within the past year, regardless of ethnicity. Female students were more likely than male students to experience bullying.
Two of the students at first wanted to talk about how one of them had been bullied, but after our conversation she returned to ask her experience not be shared for fear that someone might recognize her voice.
Hoonah School Principal Lorrie Scoles thought the program was a good way to start off the year.
“We have several new teachers here with us this year. We wanted to do some community building and let the kids build some leadership skills,” Scoles said.
This year, Hoonah’s enrollment is high at 120 students. There are about 13 new students and eight new teachers out of a staff of 13. Scoles says that in a school this small, bullying may take on the form of teasing and if it’s been normalized, students might be hesitant to speak up.
Nung Dinh is one of the new hires. She’s the school’s new counselor and art teacher. Dinh says she enjoyed the program.
“I believe it was a powerful program to get the kids thinking about their future, and thinking about why are they here at school and putting a since of purpose in that,” Dinh said.
Bob Barton, a seasoned parent-teacher assistant for the special education department, agrees.
“I liked the way he didn’t pull any punches or try to sugarcoat anything, but tried to give the students of the real world, and what’s it’s going to be like to try to reach whatever goals they set,” Barton said.
All the students agreed that they enjoyed the program, but when asked about their experiences with bullying and how it was dealt with in the school?
When asked they experience bullying or if the teachers intervene, the students didn’t respond.
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