Music Education: An Essential or an Elective?

It’s no secret that One Unified tends to go heavy on the music. With both of the founders of the site being incredibly passionate, avid music fans, it seems like one way or another our topics often meander back to the musical realm in one way or another. We’ve chronicled Woodstock. We’ve highlighted local bands like Hotlanta, Urbana, Steal Your Face, Jah People, Red Letter Life, Pure Jerry and more… We bring you a weekly entertainment calendar and try to showcase important musical happenings.
This week we’re focusing on music in a different way… in our schools. There are so many reasons why music education is important as we try to grow and develop into well-rounded human beings. This week we’re starting with the youngest of interview subjects and working our way up to demonstrate how and why music in our schools and in our lives is important, relevant and necessary at every age and stage of life. I for one know that I would not be the same without it.

Check out this fast fact-sheet about music education. Then check out today’s interview. And stay tuned all week as we talk about music education. Please share with us in our comments section or on our facebook page how and why music is important to you!

  1. Children who study music tend to have larger vocabularies and more advanced reading skills than their peers who do not participate in music lessons.
  2. Children with learning disabilities or dyslexia who tend to lose focus with more noise could benefit greatly from music lessons.
  3. Music programs are constantly in danger of being cut from shrinking school budgets even though they’re proven to improve academics.
  4. Children who study a musical instrument are more likely to excel in all of their studies, work better in teams, have enhanced critical thinking skills, stay in school, and pursue further education.
  5. In the past, secondary students who participated in a music group at school reported the lowest lifetime and current use of all substances (tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs).
  6. Schools with music programs have an estimated 90.2% graduation rate and 93.9% attendance rate compared to schools without music education, which average 72.9% graduation and 84.9% attendance.
  7. Regardless of socioeconomic status or school district, students (3rd graders) who participate in high-quality music programs score higher on reading and spelling tests.
  8. A Stanford study shows that music engages areas of the brain which are involved with paying attention, making predictions and updating events in our memory.
  9. Much like expert technical skills, mastery in arts and humanities is closely correlated to a greater understanding of language components.
  10. Young children who take music lessons show different brain development and improved memory over the course of a year, compared to children who do not receive musical training.
  11. Schools that have music programs have an attendance rate of 93.3% compared to 84.9% in schools without music programs.

girl-434248_1280 (2)Can you tell me how old you are and what grade you are in?
I’m 16 and I’m going into 11th grade.

Does your school have a music program?
Yes we do.

Do you have an instrumental music program (basically music instruction for kids who play instruments) or an instructional/educational program (where everyone takes music as part of the curriculum)?
We have both. We have music class, like everyone has 2 periods of music, but we only have it for half of the school year. And then there is band, which for the kids who are in the school’s band. They have that on top of their regular music class. 2 periods a week and then depending on the schedule of whats going on with shows and such, after school.

Are you in the band?
I’m not anymore. I played clarinet and violin from 5th-9th. In 10th I stopped because it got to be too much with all of the other things I had going on.

What were some of the other things?
Field hockey, homework, CCD, PSATs, swimming. It just got to be too much.

Why do you think it was music that didn’t make the cut? Why not say swimming? 
I was actually getting tired of it I guess and I felt like I had learned a lot from the teacher and if I wanted to pick it up again or keep up on it I could practice at home or take lessons at home, or even You Tube instructional stuff. There’s a ton of stuff out there.

Do you think you’ll do that?
I’m not sure about the clarinet but I plan to keep up with the violin and ultimately want to take private guitar lessons.

What do you like about playing an instrument?
I always thought it was cool to play. I like music. When I’m happy, I play music. When I’m in a bad mood, I slam my door and crank up my music. When I am sad, I put on my headphones and curl up in my bed with music. And I just think how amazing it is to be able to do something that takes people away to that place. If I’m that attached to it just listening, imagine being on the other end of that. Imagine being the one who gives that to people.

That is incredibly mature. And very true. Music has a very special way of moving people. Can you think of any other benefits to playing music as a kid or a teen?
Well, I don’t know for sure but I would think that it probably keeps kids out of trouble, keep them from maybe drinking or getting into drugs or whatever. I feel like they might get better grades. I just feel like they would be in better touch with so many things. People who can appreciate music and the messages it gives and the details of it I feel like they’re just more likely to “get it” you know? Just be overall better at understanding things.

In your regular music class what do you learn?
It’s basically music appreciation and understanding. We learn about music in society, in history, how it effects popular culture. We listen to a lot of different compositions and evaluate them. We learn notation and some composition. We learn about different composers.

That sounds interesting. When I was a kid we had music in school every week and we learned how to read notes and the difference between flat notes and sharp notes, and things like that. I think it bored a lot of people and maybe even turned them away from music. It sounds like it’s come a long way?
I guess so. We learn about music and technology and modern applications. We talk about careers in music. So, I think there is a lot more that might appeal to somebody and make them want to play.

What about people who don’t want to play. Do you think there’s still a place for music in school for them?
Definitely. They can still learn about it. It’s still beautiful. I might not want a career is history, but we still have to learn that. It’s part of having a well-rounded education.

clarinet-411015_1280Would it surprise you if I told you that there are hundreds, maybe thousands of schools not very far from here that have NO music programs at all? That budgets have been cut back and that music is sadly always one of the first things to go?
I guess it surprises me that they think that it’s a class that is disposable I guess. That it’s not important enough to be a regular class. They could cut back after school clubs or activities or something else. I’m not saying those things aren’t important, but music class is important. It’s a real thing. It’s something everyone should have to at least try to learn about, like math, science, all of that. It’s like the flip side of that, ya know? It’s like the artistic part that is the opposite of the academic part.

At this point, the 8 year-old sibling comes in and agrees to answer a question or two.

Hi. Can you tell me what grade you are in and how old you are?
I’m going into 3rd.

And how old are you?
8.

Can I ask you if you take music class at school?
No. We don’t get to do music until 4th grade I think. Or 5th

Would you like to be able to take music class? To learn about music and listen to music and maybe even learn how to play it?
Yes. When I go to 5th I’m allowed to take home like a flute or saxophone or drums or something.

Do you listen to a lot of music when you’re at home? How do you listen usually?
I listen to my iPod because I already put what I wanted on it. But I add stuff when I have money in there.

Do you think everybody should have a chance to play music?
If they want to they should play it. But they should have to take music in school since we already have to take computers and art and stuff. Not everybody like those but we have to have them.

Okay can we play a little game? I’m going to say a word and you say the first word that pops into your head:
Itunes- Money
Songs- Listen
Guitar- Cool
Mozart- Music guy
School- Summer
Math- Hard
Science- Explosion
Social Studies- History
Gym- Tired
Computers- Games
Music- Happy

Can we do that last one again?
Music- Happy

I think that says it all. If we aren’t keeping music in schools because we don’t want to waste money when they might not want a career in music, how about we do it because it makes them happy? I didn’t want a career in science, but I had to take that every year. Let’s find a balance! Maybe the rest of this week’s interviews will help underscore the music in schools debate.

Sources: From Do Something.org

1 Arete Music Academy. “Statistical benefits of music in education.” Arete Music Academy. Accessed July 17, 2014. .
2 Arete Music Academy. “Statistical benefits of music in education.” Arete Music Academy. Accessed July 17, 2014. .
3 National Center for Education Statistics. “Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools, 1999-2000 and 2009-2010.” National Center for Education Statistics. Accessed February 24, 2015. .
4 Arte Music Academy. “Statistical benefits of music in education.” Statistical-Benefits-Of-Music-In-Education. Accessed July 17, 2014.
5 VH1: Save the Music. “The Benefits of Music Education.” VH1: Save the Music. Accessed February 24, 2015. .
6 The National Association for Music Education. “Music Makes the Grade.” The National Association for Music Education. Accessed February 24, 2015.
7 Hille, Katrin, et al. “Associations between music education, intelligence, and spelling ability in elementary school.” Adv Cogn Psychol 7 (2011): 1–6. Web. Accessed February 24, 2015.
8 Baker, Mitzi. “Music moves brain to pay attention, Stanford study finds.” Stanford Medicine. Accessed February 24, 2015.
9 Trei, Lisa. “Musical training helps language processing, studies show.” Stanford News. Accessed February 24, 2015. .
10 National Association for Music Education. “The Benefits of the Study of Music.” National Association for Music Education. Accessed July 17, 2014. .
11 The National Association for Music Education. “Music Makes the Grade.” The National Association for Music Education. Accessed February 24, 2015.

OMG! We’re Talking (Barely) to Two Teen Girls.

Do you have a teen or pre-teen child? If you do you know that they can be, at times, less than cooperative in nature. How about daughters? I’ve been a parent a long time. I’ve known hundreds and hundreds of parents. I have talked to, interviewed and written about parents for years. I can’t remember one time where a person with children of both genders said that they thought that daughters were easier to raise than sons. Not one time (barring special circumstances of course). So when you put the two together, a teenage girl, well let’s just say there is a special place in heaven for those of us who make it through. And in the meantime, we have the bar.

I was tempted to just post the audio that we use for our interviews, rather than transcribe it to write this post. I thought only then could you fully appreciate the heavy sighs, the barely audible responses, the giggling at the questions. I thought that would help you feel the vibe of complete and utter annoyance being put forth. To think that these two young girls, who shall remain anonymous, had to take 10 whole minutes out of their busy lives to do something so incredibly lame as answer the silly questions of an adult. AS IF?

Rather than post the audio, and risk their identities being revealed, which would of course send them into a spiral of shame and unpopularity that would surely last them well into their college years, I decided to just go ahead and transcribe the post. Besides, it’s not like you can see the dirty looks and the eyerolls on the audio anyway.

How old are you girls?
A: 13
B: 13

What grade will you be going in to?
A: 8th
B: 8th

Do you have any brothers or sisters?
A: 1 brother and 1 sister.
B: I have a brother, 2 step brothers, and a step sister.

Do you like them?
A: Makes funny faces and a strange noise.
B: Shakes her head and makes a strange noise.

Do you guys get along?
A: Eh. It depends on the day.
B: Mmmmm… no not really.

Why do you think you guys don’t get along?
A: Because they like to irk my soul. (Yes, you read that right. They IRK HER SOUL.)
B: Shrugs.

Okay clearly the sibling thing is going swimmingly. Let’s move on shall we?

What are you guys doing this summer? Going anywhere? Done anything good so far?
A: I went to the beach.
Who did you go with?
A: My family
How was it?
A: Two thumbs up.
So if you could go anywhere you wanted to this summer, do anything in the world, what would you do?
A: Go shopping in Paris.
By yourself? Would you take your take your family?
A: I’d take my friends.

How about you, doing anything fun this summer? Going anywhere? Done anything good so far?
B: I went to the beach in Ocean City. We’re going to Myrtle Beach too.
Did you go to OC with your family?
B: Yeah.
Are you excited to go to Myrtle Beach?
B: Yeah.
So if you could go anywhere you wanted to this summer, do anything in the world, what would you do?
B: Um, (2 minutes of total silence). Um, (2 minutes of verbal prompting). I’d go to Hawaii.
Ok. Would you take your family?
B: No.
Would you take your friends?
B. Yeah.

Alright… enough about summer time. Summer’s clearly overrated anyway.  Let’s move on to school. Why not?

So, you’re both starting 8th grade in the fall. What’s your favorite subject in school?
A: Lunch. Kidding… science.
Why is that your favorite?
A: It’s fun.
What’s your least favorite?
A: Math
What don’t you like about it?
A: Too much work! (Work? In school? No way!)

How about you, what’s your favorite subject in school?
B: Math.
Why is that your favorite?
B: I’m good at it.
What’s your least favorite?
B: Language Arts
Why is that your least favorite?
B: I’m not very good at it.
(Makes perfect sense to me)

If you could add any subject to the curriculum that they don’t already teach, what would you add?
A: Shopping.
Really? How would that be good to teach in school? How would you pitch it?
A: How to manage your money and get what you want while shopping.
And you?
B: How to bake something without catching it on fire.
(Give me strength)

You guys have both eaten lunch at school, right? How’s the food at school?
A: It’s okay sometimes. I guess. Depends on what they made.
B: Depends on the day.

Is there anything on the menu now that you’d keep if you were changing the menu?
A: They have good mac n cheese.
B: Shrugs.

If you could add anything to the school lunch menu what would you add?
A: Mozzarella sticks that aren’t greasy. Grilled cheese that’s not disgusting.
B: Pizza.

You girls can add anything to the menu. Anything. Ice cream sundaes, fettuccine alfredo, cake, anything! Are you sure you’d pick pizza and grilled cheese?
A: Blank stare
B: Shrugs.

At this point I wish it were over. I truly do. But… it’s not.

Who was your favorite teacher this year (without a name just a subject)?
A: My science teacher.
B: Math.

What made them a good teacher?
A: They didn’t make us do work.
B: Because she was really nice and she let us talk more than any of my other teachers did.

So, one more thing I want to talk about. As 13-year-old girls, what do you think is the biggest problem that you personally face every day?
A: Too much homework.
So, too much homework is your biggest problem?
A: Yes. I just worked all day for 6 hours and now I have to work at home too.
So, out of all the problems teenage girls face, family problems, peer pressure, bullying, not fitting in, boy troubles, too much homework is your biggest huh?
A: Mmm hmm.
Well, I would say that you are one very lucky 13-year-old girl and you should remember that.
How about you?
B: Ummmm I don’t know. My brother bothers me a lot. He annoys me every day after school.

Clearly, I have selected the 2 most problem free teenage girls in town.

So, what about all teens? What do you think the biggest problem is for kids your age in general?
A: Trying to fit in at school.
B: Yeah I agree.

What do you think is the biggest problem facing the world? What do you think is the greatest issue that we all face, as kids, adults, everyone? What do we most need to fix in the world?
A: Starving people. Homeless.
A lot of discussion among themselves. And silence. And sighs. Always the sighs.
B: Violence.

Do you think there is a good way to address those problems?
A: People who are hungry, like homeless people, sometimes they ask for money, sometimes they hold signs on the street. And you want to give them money because they might be starving. But sometimes people take advantage of that and they try to get you to give them money when they aren’t really homeless or they aren’t going to use the money for food. So they kind of ruin it for the others, because people don’t know if they can trust them so they won’t give them money.
(Ah, a glimmer of hope)
B: Unsure.

One last question just for fun. Do you think you’ll get married someday? And if you do, how old do you think you might be? What might be a good age to get married?
A: 13. (laughter) Just kidding. I don’t know. In your 20’s I guess. Like 24, 25, 26. Around there.
B: I guess mid 20’s.

What I learned: Teenage girls irk MY soul. Most 13-year-old girls would much rather hang out with their friends than their family. The universal age for getting married according to children between the ages of 3 and about 16 is in the 20-26 range. I missed writing for/about kids. Mostly because it’s so damn entertaining. And lastly unless you can capture the many faces, eyerolls, sideways glances, and goofy looks, it’s probably not a great idea to use 13-year-old girls as your interview subjects.

Disclaimer: *** These statement are of course not true of all 13-year-old girls. Just of the two I spoke to on this day. And my own. And all of her friends. And all of the ones who I have met. But probably not every single 13-year-old girl on earth.***

Graduation Week…From the Vantage Point of an Educator

imageWhat do you do for a living?

“I am an English teacher of 9th – 12th grade students in a Philadelphia high school.”

What is the most important thing you feel is important to prepare upcoming graduates with?

“The sense of the real world. Most students these days seem to live in a world without consequence. They seem to do whatever they want, knowing there will be next-to-no repercussions.”

What percentage of students, would you say, really know what they want to do for a living?

“I think quite a few of them do… much more so than we did at their age. The ability and ease of finding out information, I believe, really helps a lot of them get a handle on what they would like to do and what’s out there for them. I find myself often saying things like “That’s a job?! Why didn’t any “career counselor” ever tell me about that. I would have LOVED to do that.” (e.g. Traveling food critic, voice-over actor…)”

What makes you feel like you’ve succeeded in preparing a student for college/future?

“I sometimes get emails or Facebook messages from former students actually thanking me for having been so hard with them. They find themselves far above their peers when they get to college. I’ve even had a few inform me their first-year composition professors tell them they no longer have to come to class because whoever taught them did a decent job… so that’s nice.”

Do any students stand out in your memory? Why?

“Honestly, too many to mention and for reasons as varied as the people. You spend four years with these people and watch them grow and transform. I am also lucky enough to work in a school that embraces individuality and truly allows them to be themselves. This question has brought a lot of them to the forefront of my mind though. Thanks for that.”

What advice would you give to students that are preparing to start their future?
“Be passionate about SOMETHING! Apathy and complacency have taken over much of the younger generations. That needs to change. Find something you love and pursue it. Don’t care about the money, because then you’ll only be rich and miserable. Money doesn’t buy happiness, it just buys stuff to distract you from how unhappy you are.

I would also like to add that just because a word ends in a vowel does NOT mean it requires an apostrophe to make it plural.”

image

Bullying in our Schools: A Counselor Speaks and Provides Valuable Resources for Parents

We spent a week talking about bullying. We talked to parents and to kids. We talked about bullying in school and online. We offered suggestions for dealing with bullying. Today we finish out our week-long bullying discussion by speaking to a middle school counselor to get a professional perspective on the prevalence and prevention of this problem. Be sure to check out the resource list at the end of the post and you can keep the conversation going on our Facebook page after we’ve finished.

WHAT GRADES DO YOU WORK WITH?
I’m in a middle school, so it’s 6th-8th grades.

DO YOU SEE MANY STUDENTS IN BULLYING RELATED SITUATIONS?
I’d say I probably deal with 3 or 4 legitimate cases of bullying per school year.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY ‘LEGITIMATE’ CASES?
A lot of the time things are brought before me, or I’m called by a teacher or a parent to deal with an issue that is, at first, described as a “bullying” situation. A lot of the time it is a misunderstanding between two parties, or it’s been explained in a confusing manner to the authority figure in the situation, and then gets relayed to me as something that it’s really not.

HOW ARE YOU ABLE TO DISCERN WHAT IS AN ISNT A LEGITIMATE CASE OF BULLYING?
Well, for starters I talk to all of the involved parties. I’ll talk to the students alone. I’ll talk to them together if possible. I’ll talk to teachers, aides, witnesses, parents, administrators, whoever needs to get involved to get to the bottom of the situation. We have a policy in school, the HIB policy. It stands for Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying. When something is brought to my attention, I have a set amount of time in which I have to acknowledge and address it. All reports have to be investigated! I have a set amount of time in which to investigate. It’s at that point that I’m usually talking to the kids and so forth. Some of the time I find out fairly early on that it doesn’t meet the criteria outlined in the policy. And then sometimes it does, and that’s a whole different ball game.

SO, WHAT IS THE CRITERIA? WHAT HAS TO HAPPEN FOR IT TO ACTUALLY BE CONSIDERED BULLYING?
It’s pretty specific but basically there has to be a reasonable belief of intent, that someone is motivated by a specific outcome to do what it is they are being accused of, and it has to be something that causes disruption or interference of regular school activities, or infringes on the rights of other students.

AND YOU ONLY SEE A FEW OF THESE IN A SCHOOL YEAR?
Typically, yes. We get kids fighting, arguing, issues on the bus, etc. but the cases of bullying have to be addressed under this policy, and we don’t see a whole lot if it, not as many as other schools that I am familiar with. Of course, even if you see 4 or 5 in a year, that’s still 4 or 5 too many. And bullying is absolutely a very serious issue at this age. This is age where kids are really finding out who they are and what they are all about. It’s so easy for them to get down on themselves to begin with. They are going through a tremendous amount of physical and emotional changes anyway, and are really unsure of a lot of things. To have someone come along and shine a light on those very things that you’re already feeling insecure about can be heartbreaking, just crippling for some kids. And that can lead down a very nasty road. So when I say that only 4 or so meet the criteria to go through the entire process of the bullying policy, that’s not to say that I don’t get a lot of kids who come in feeling bad because so and so said something about me or things of that nature, but it’s not necessarily an ongoing event nor is it done in a premeditated manner.

WE ACTUALLY DID INTERVIEWS WITH A  TEEN GIRL AND A TEEN BOY’S PERSPECTIVE EARLIER THIS WEEK ABOUT BULLYING. DO YOU SEE MORE GIRLS OR BOYS FOR STUFF LIKE THIS?
I think it’s about the same. I see more boys because their teachers send them in to talk or they were fighting outside and got sent down. As for girls, they are much more inclined to come to me on their own.

DO YOU SEE IT MORE IN A CERTAIN AGE GROUP?
Actually no, not for this. I see every grade for something a little different. 6th graders with adjustment stuff. 8th graders with high school readiness stuff. 7th graders with whatever is the current “issue” of the moment. But for disciplinary issues or for victim’s counseling, that is pretty well dispersed.

counselorbully2HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A SCHOOL COUNSELOR?
It’s been about 10 years if you count the internship I did in school within the same setting.

DO YOU SEE A TREND OF MORE OR LESS BULLYING?
Impossible to say. I am asked this all the time actually. The thing is, when we were kids, they didn’t call it bullying. Plus, people didn’t talk so freely about this stuff so it was probably underreported. And everything is so wide open now. Information is everywhere. Very little happens nowadays that everyone doesn’t know about. Plus when we were young if you wanted to fight someone or call them names, you walked up to them after school and just did it. Or you set it up in advance. I find that so bizarre now. What did we used to say?

I THINK WE USED TO SAY “I OFFER YOU OUT” OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT- AS IN, I AM OFFERING YOU THE CHANCE TO FIGHT ME SO MEET ME OUTSIDE AT SUCH AND SUCH A TIME. IT SOUNDS SO RIDICULOUS NOW.
It does. And what I was thinking of with that was that we don’t do that anymore. Now we post it on Facebook or we tweet about someone, or we screenshot people’s stuff and send it to other people. And that is what I see a lot of, a lot of he said, she said, she put a mean picture of me on Instagram kind of stuff.

SO DO YOU THINK IT IS A SERIOUS PROBLEM THAT WE ARE FACING TODAY?
Well, I think it’s important no matter what. Whether it’s real or perceived, it’s just a fact that over the last several years, bullying has received a massive surge in attention, and has emerged as a very serious problem in and out of schools. And in those cases where there is actually bullying going on, then it is crucial that it is swiftly and seriously addressed. We have seen a multitude of studies that show all sorts of negative future ramifications for kids who are bullied.

SO WHAT DOES A KID DO IF THEY FEEL LIKE THEY ARE BEING BULLIED? HOW ARE THEY SUPPOSED TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE?
They’re not. I mean, it’s not on them to have to decide if it’s a HIB case or not. If they feel uncomfortable, if they feel threatened, if they are scared or unsure, they need to bring it to our attention! It’s up to us to sort out the particulars, but either way, we’re here to help them with whatever it turns out to be!

WHAT KIND OF RESOURCES ARE AVAILABLE TO PARENTS IF THEY FEEL LIKE THERE CHILD IS BEING BULLIED AND HOW WOULD THEY GO ABOUT GETTING THOSE?
Well, a lot of the resources that I give to parents when they call me are those for here in New Jersey. The policies and procedures vary from state to state. But, there are some that are fairly standard and universal. I can provide those for you. And of course there’s always Google. Simply searching something like ‘I think my child is being bullied’ will turn up hundreds of hits. Obviously just be careful and verify that you are getting information from a credible and knowledgeable source.

*Signs your child may be being bullied*

*Complete and comprehensive information about bullying*

*Assistance for parents of children with disabilities*

*NJ Coalition for Bullying and Awareness Prevention* (State specific)

*State bullying laws*

*The Bully Project’s resources for parents*


photo credit: First Lady O’Malley Address Armistead Gardens Students on Bullying via photopin (license)

photo credit: bully_show_archive (24 of 39) via photopin (license)

Another Mom’s Perspective…Trying to Find a Solution.

cyber-bullying-122156_1280

We’re talking about the subject of bullying this week and I understand you have experience with this. Your child was bullied?
“Yes. My oldest son, who is now 15.”

What happened?
“The bullying actually started in about third grade. We moved up here (northeast Philadelphia) and he started to go to Fitzpatrick (school). He’s a very sensitive kid and an easy target, basically, for kids. He was bullied pretty bad by the kids. It got worse as he got older. I actually had to remove him from Fitzpatrick and put in Labrum. At one point, I had to take him to the emergency room because he went to shake the kids hand (who was bullying him). The kid wanted to play “ok, we’ll be friends” and shake his hand, and he squeezed his hand so hard he heard something snap as he twisted it behind his back.”

That’s horrible! This was in third grade?
“No, this was sixth grade. We sent him to the other school for seventh and eighth grade. I had had it at that point because the school will say they have this “no bullying tolerance” and that’s so not true. I understand that there are so many kids per school, and it’s probably hard to govern everyone, but it’s pretty bad. They have these “things” they like to call “ball tap Tuesday”. I had to go up to school cause he was kicked in the groin. The Vice Principal said to me, “Well, ya know, boys will be boys”. I said “Really!? That’s your mentality? Let’s just let them all kick each other in a very important organ and damage it cause boys will be boys!?” That was her mentality. I went above the Principal’s head to the Superintendent because it started to occur from a teacher as well. He (her son) was in computer class and he didn’t get to finish his project because the kids had pulled the plug on him. He went up to talk to the teacher and the teacher said “they’re only joking with ya.” That’s how you handle a situation? My son and his best friend proceeded to tell me that this teacher would even edge on a fight between students.”

Was anything ever done about the teacher?
“I think that they had taken him up for evaluation because I had written a letter to the superintendent.” I had actually talked to her on the phone and said to her “If you want, you can give me a job! I’ll let those kids do whatever they want to those computers. All the money the school district puts into the schools! I’ll let them destroy them if you want. Not a problem. If I can do whatever I want like that…”
Fitzpatrick was horrible. At one point, there was a boy who my son was having problems with. The boy had threatened to beat him with a baseball bat. I requested a sit down with his mother. They said they didn’t do that there. I said “You have to do that. That happens to be a Philadelphia School District rule and law. You cannot deny me that.” So rather than have a sit down, what they did was, instead of have her sit and talk to me, they had her talk to me on the phone. My whole objective was to allow her to know the way that he was acting. A lot of times our children act out of character when they’re not around us. You know, the mice will play. This kid was teaching his little sister how to curse and tell the kids that his mom was afraid of him, that he was gonna beat her up. All this crazy stuff, I guess, to make himself look better. So I was trying to explain this to her and the stuff with the baseball bat. She just said that he would never do that, he never talked like that. I told her I just wanted to let her know, that I felt it was my job as a parent to let her know. I would expect someone to let me know if my child was acting outrageous like that. She proceeded to tell me that she had seen text messages on her sons phone that my son was cursing at him. I said “Really? I thank you for letting me know. That’s something that I will handle.” When he came home I approached him about it. What’s funny is that my son is so much like me. If he doesn’t like someone, he won’t give them the time of day. He won’t go out of his way to bother them cause they’re just not worth it. So I approached him about the cursing and he said, “No Mom. I had his phone number for a day and I deleted it cause I don’t like him.” I believe him cause I would’ve done the same thing.”

Was the other mother able to offer you any proof, like screenshots of the texts? And why didn’t she call you to make you aware before you called her about the baseball bat threats?
“No. And the school wouldn’t let me meet with her. They requested the phone conversation. I even had an advocate at one point because by law through the school district if you’re having a problem with a child, you can have a sit down with the parent and they can’t deny you that. They really tried to deny me of that. I understand why. I’m sure that there are parents in this world that act worse than their children. So maybe they want to prevent violent outbreaks. But you have to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.”

How did you help him when he’d come home after being bullied at school?
“I’d build him up and tell him all the time that kids that pick on other kids are jealous. They see something in you that either they don’t like about themselves or don’t have. My son’s just a genuinely nice kid and he’s sensitive.”

It’s terrible that you have to pull the kid that’s being bullied out of school, yet the kids that are doing the bullying get away with it.
“Yeah. When he was in sixth grade, the beginning of the school year, he was walking home and the eighth graders were throwing rocks at him. It’s so hard to get the school to do anything. At one point, the Vice Principal wouldn’t even call me back until after I wrote a letter to the superintendent. That’s when she paid me attention.”

Did this affect his grades?
“It did affect his grades.”

When you moved him to the new school in seventh grade, was it an instant change in him or did it take some time?
“It was kind of instant. I mean it took him time to get used to the school, to find people he could be friendly with. He was upset that he was leaving the other school because his best friend went there. And his best friend was bullied as well. He’s dealing with his own issues, as a teenager, with anger, due to that. It’s very sad.”

Did your son deal with any bullying at the new school?
“No. He didn’t deal with bullying there. I think there might’ve been one issue. I wrote a letter to the Principal and the Principal called me that day. It was handled. Labrum was great. His grades went up. He’s now in high school.”

There has always been bullying. When we were kids, there was certainly bullying. But it seems to have gotten worse. Why do you think that is?
“I think that people have just given up. Either parents aren’t paying attention, they’re acting that way themselves and it’s learned behavior or this child has a severe diagnosis like Oppositional Defiant Disorder and it’s not being taken care of. There could be different reasons for this behavior. And people are too busy. They’re too busy trying to have a life, run a household, then to put the time and effort into something that needs to be taken care of…”

Do you think bullying will ever stop or do you think it’ll always be part of our society?                             “I think it’s something that will probably always be a part of society. I think it could get better, in time, if people put in effort. I’m sure that it happened in the 20’s and even before that. But kids were petrified of their parents at one time. A lot of times people hit their kids if their kids weren’t acting correctly and you can’t do that anymore. Not that I hit my kids or believe in it. But the world is very, very different so kids tend to get away with a lot more. I’ll tell ya what, I couldn’t act any way I wanted in school! My mother did not accept that.”

Your son is doing well now?
“Yes. He’s a ninth grader now in an arts high school. He’s really doing awesome. He actually said to my mom that he’s really enjoying growing up. He said he feels like he’s around a bunch of “me’s”. I thought that was so funny, a great expression of how he felt.”

What advice would you give regarding somebody that’s being bullied, a parent or an administrator?
“Keep the lines of communication open with your child. My advice to administration is to take the issue serious. Don’t chalk it up to “boys will be boys” because there are kids out there committing suicide over being bullied! This needs to be taken a lot more seriously than they are.”

A Mother Speaks: The Pain of Having a Child Who’s Being Bullied.

Over the past couple of days we have spoken to a teenage girl and a teenage boy about bullying. If you missed those perspectives, you’ll definitely want to check them out here and here. And while the teens we spoke to were lucky enough to have a very limited first-hand knowledge of bullying, not everyone is so lucky.

As parents we can attest that the number one thing you think about when you let go of your child’s tiny hand the first time you send them off to school is, are they going to be able to keep my baby safe? Are they going to be able to care for them the way that I would?
The last thing a parent wants to think about is someone else causing their child pain. Unfortunately, it happens. And we spoke to a women who has been there…

HOW OLD ARE YOUR KIDS?
My daughter is 14 and my son is 9.

HAVE YOU HAD ANY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH BULLIES?
Unfortunately, yes. My son, who has special needs, has been bullied in school on a couple of different occasions. Actually, the one time I am not even sure I would call it bullying. That was back in first grade. Kids could see or sense or somehow know even at that age, that he was just a bit different from them. I guess some people just naturally hone in on that and some don’t. Plenty of kids treated him exactly like all the other kids, but there was one or two that consistently pointed out any little difference between themselves and my son.

AND ANOTHER TIME AS WELL?
Yes again at the beginning of the current school year.

WHY DO YOU SAY THAT YOU ONLY CONSIDERED ONE OF THESE ACTUALLY BULLYING?
Well, the stuff that was going on in first grade, I think that was just these kids not really understanding who my son was and not knowing any better. I don’t think that their parents ever explained to them that there are people who are different, that not everyone is the same and you’re going to encounter people who aren’t like you. I have aways taught both my kids that. I tell them to embrace what is different about others and learn from it. Don’t make someone feel bad about who they are. But I guess not everyone is the same in that respect either.

WHAT HAPPENED THE SECOND TIME? HOW WAS IT DIFFERENT?
The second time around, he had gotten past all of the first grade stuff and was really getting along well with everyone in his classes. But he kept coming home really just down looking. He is a happy kid. He’s always smiling and having fun. So, to see him come home sad-faced every day for like a week was odd. I thought maybe he was sick, but he had no fever, no cough, no sore throat, nothing. So, I kept an eye. That second week he started getting upset when it was time to go to school, which was just unheard of for him. I knew something was going on at school at that point.

SO WHAT DID YOU? HOW DID YOU PROCEED?
Called the school and told them exactly what I had observed.

AND WHAT HAPPENED? WHAT DID THEY DO?
They asked a bunch of questions and brought my son down to the counselor. They had to call his case worker because he has an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) and they are supposed to be involved. They also brought in his classroom teacher to see if she was aware of anything. She had noticed too that he seemed a little down but when she asked him if he was alright, he said, “yes” and she left it alone at that point. He never said anything to anyone else.

SO HOW DID YOU FIND OUT WHAT WAS GOING ON?
We dug. We met with the whole team, the principal, counselor, teacher, case worker, everyone. I think in hindsight we may have pressured him too much to tell us what was wrong, but I was so worried. The things that go through your head are nothing short of insane! What is going on with my kid?! Is he ill, like the kind of ill you can’t see? Is he being bullied? Molested? You really can’t imagine where the mind goes. So, I felt like we had to know. We only got out of him that someone, a boy, was giving him a hard time at school. And we had a name. It wasn’t until the boy was brought into the fold, and eventually his parents, that we got to the real meat of the issue.
As it turned out this boy and another little boy had been calling my son names, the kind of names kids call each other not even thinking that they are as offensive and hurtful as they are- stupid, idiot, retarded, gay, etc.
The older boy of the two, one was in 5th grade and one in 4th, eventually admitted to this and a bunch of other stuff including taking my son’s lunch and hiding it in a different spot every day for 2 weeks, not letting him sit down on the bus (until the bus driver was yelling at him), taking items from his desk and throwing them away, etc.

AND WHAT WAS THE REACTION TO THESE REVELATIONS?
He seemed to feel like he was just being a practical joker. He said he had no idea that it was hurting my son so much. The staff was pretty supportive, I think largely because they really dropped the ball on this one. This kid was really tormenting my child day in and day out right under their noses for weeks. Luckily, the boy’s parents were having no parts of any excuses he had. They were mortified.

DID YOU INITIALLY FEAR THEIR REACTION?
I did. You never know if they are going to take the “not my child” approach. If they’re going to make excuses, or if they’ll even do anything about it. But they, particularly the mother, were very understanding and apologetic. I remember the mom kept saying in the meeting, “I don’t understand, I know he knows better.” She must have said that ten times. I actually felt a little bad.

WHY DID YOU FEEL BAD FOR HER?
I think because she is a mom too and people automatically assume that bullying is the result of bad parenting. And I really don’t think that was the case here. I don’t know what other factors are at work, I am not an expert, but they seemed to be very loving and involved parents. For me, I felt a camaraderie almost, because she was essentially suffering knowing that her child had inflicted pain on someone else. She felt like a failure. And I felt like one too for not being able to protect my son.

SO WHAT LESSON WOULD YOU SAY WAS LEARNED HERE?
Well, I learned that you can’t protect your kids 100% of the time. I also learned that in this day and age you really have to watch the signs and cues that your kids give you. The nonverbal stuff. Kids lack vital communication skills these days. And when you add in a child who is not overly communicative to begin with, it’s even harder. I also learned that you can’t really judge people’s parenting. And I know my son learned that he has to speak up and tell someone if he is feeling intimidated or harassed. And if he is scared, we need to know. And I think really importantly, the boy who had been bullying my son learned something too. He learned that it’s not okay to harass someone just for being different. And he learned that it’s actually much nicer and cooler to stand beside someone who is a little different and misunderstood rather than to try to act tough because you don’t understand someone.

YOU’RE VERY LUCKY TO HAVE HAD SUCH A POSITIVE OUTCOME ALL THE WAY AROUND.
We really were. I was very scared at first. You hear so many stories on the news. It doesn’t always get tied up so neatly for everyone though. It’s rarely a happy ending all the way around. That is why I think attention and focus need to stay on it. There are parents burying their children because of this. I am beyond fortunate that I am not one of them. I am fortunate that our incident of bullying wasn’t near what some kids endure. My son got his happy ending and my daughter has not had to endure anything like this. I’ll tell anyone and everyone my story just to remind them that it happens and that it may be happening right under your nose.