Improvement on the Horizon

A screen shot from Polack's video shows the eighth grader asking if bullying will make high school worse than middle school already is.

Intermixed between her silent pleas for bullying relief, Bedford Middle School eighth grader Alye Pollack poses a daunting question in her now viral YouTube video, “Will high school get worse?”

Luckily, the general consensus appears to be that when compared to middle school, high school gives students relief from being bullied.

“I think high school has been much better than middle school was,” Robbie Gershowitz ‘14 said. “I used to get picked on a little in middle school, but now thanks to the wide variety of clubs and other opportunities that are available at Staples, nothing of the sort occurs anymore.”

While Staples offers numerous athletic programs and over 90 clubs, the two middle schools in Westport, Bedford and Coleytown, do not have school sports programs and have a limited variety of clubs and other extracurricular activities.

Not only does the increase in opportunities contribute to making the high school environment more suitable for students with differing interests, but so does the older, more mature student body.

“All the picking on and bullying that happened in middle school was just because everyone was younger and more insecure,” Will Englehart ’14 said. “Now, we’re all older and have a lot more self-confidence, and that’s why I think all the picking on that people used to do over such trivial things has gone away.”

According to Vice Principal Richard Franzis, Staples takes much effort to both punish those who bully others, and to educate students about preventing bullying.

Franzis said that every Friday morning a meeting takes place at which all of the assistant principals, Principal John Dodig, and the directors of special education and guidance attend. During the meeting, they discuss “students of concern” who have been brought to their attention, or have shown any of the red flags for bully-like behavior. However, Franzis stressed how “seldom” it is that he has a specific student in mind. As far as educating students goes, the school tries to subtly implement bullying prevention into the student’s minds.

“We don’t spend all day talking about bullying in a classroom,” Franzis said. “Instead, it’s integrated into the health curriculum.”

K-12 Physical Education and Health Curriculum Coordinator David Gusitsch, said bullying is introduced into health classes early on, as students start to learn about it as early as middle school. Then, it continues to be discussed in high school, when all the different types of bullying are studied.

“The health curriculum is unique because we don’t have a specific ‘on day one, this needs to be taught’ type of plan,” Guisitch said. “Instead, we have the flexibility to change our curriculum to address what students are facing at any given time.”

While the school may take many preventive measures, in the end it comes down to the student’s willingness to report problems. As Franzis said, reluctance to come forward is just human nature, and it is “engrained in student culture, their ‘code of conduct.’”

One area where the school has even less discretion is the newly emerging cyberbullying threat. The only time in which the school can intervene is if the bullying that is occurring online, spills into the school, Franzis said.

“The Internet has opened up a whole new medium of where bullying can take place,” said Franzis. “It provides anonymity and that empowers and emboldens people, and it gives them an invincible feeling that they exploit.”

Due to the current sensitivity of the bullying issue, Dodig and Director of Guidance Elaine Schwartz declined to comment.

To answer Alye Pollack’s question, it appears that thanks to more mature students, efforts by the administration, and the increased number of opportunities that Staples provides, high school apparently does get better.

Still, as Franzis said, the issue of bullying comes down to whether or not the students want to come forward. “You can’t do anything about stuff you don’t see or know about.”