So often when I write, I am venting about some issue or action that perturbs me and brings me to that point. It’s honestly not because I’m a negative person; I swear to you I am not. I suppose my standards for what is good enough to take the time to peck keys about are just too high. Not so this afternoon. After two failed attempts, the stars aligned today and the anti-Bullying program brought by Cindy Watson at Manassas Park High School came to fruition this morning. No matter how high I set the bar set to write about something good, it was easily eclipsed today.
With both presentations combined, Cindy arranged for the program to be delivered to the entire student population of the school. The events were attended as well, by Dr. Bruce McDade, the Superintendent of Manassas Park City Schools. The fact that the issue of bullying, including the horrid magnification caused by the introduction of cyber-bullying, was handled in a proactive manner, speaks volumes of their leadership. One of the critical duties of our schools is to keep our children safe, and MPCS is not waiting until a tragedy occurs before taking action. Every school system in the country that is behind the curve should take note.
I’m proud to have been included in this event, and to have been introduced by title and organization to speak openly about how this issue touches the LGBT community. The suicide statistics within that group compared to the general student population is reason enough to not use code words or some other means of hemming and hawing. I included my personal viewpoint that tolerance, although much needed, is only a first step. Obviously we tolerate things we don’t like. My hope is that tolerance will lead to acceptance and there will come a time, in the near future, when we can actually embrace our differences. Of course, those differences go well beyond gay-straight. This was particularly true of this group. Manassas Park is a true melting pot, which could not have been more evident as I looked over both crowds of teens.
I was followed by Heather Martinsen-Hill, a Certified Prevention Specialist from Prince William County Community Services. She discussed not only the effects, but the potential consequences from various kinds of bullying; physical, emotional and cyber-bullying. The sincerity with which Ms Heather (as she is known to the students) spoke, demonstrated the total commitment she felt. It was clear that the students were her primary concern, as it should be for anyone involved with a school. Before she finished, Ms Heather showed a video about a teen girl, Delia, who had been cyber-bullied to the point of a deep seeded depression so intense she would not return to school.
Closing out each program was the Principal, Eric Doyle, who properly brought the hammer down, at least figuratively. It was the anti-tolerance part of the presentation, as in; there would be no tolerance for bullying of any kind under his watch. (This sort of defines my point about tolerance.) I think when most of us were teens, there was probably an authority figure at the school that brought the fear of God to those kids who intended to do something wrong. Today it became apparent who fills that ever important role for the Cougars of Manassas Park High. Mr. Doyle sort of made me squirm a little bit in my chair. Some memories die hard.
Perhaps most rewarding for me personally, was when two students, Michael and Jessica came to speak with me afterwards. They were interested in starting a Gay-Straight Alliance at the school and wanted my help to get them started. As I told them, the first thing we need to do is make sure that school policy allows them to proceed. Thankfully, with Superintendent McDade in the auditorium, I was able to begin that process. He indicated that the issue would need to be discussed. As with most things worthwhile, the process needs to begin before it can ever succeed. So, let’s begin the discussion now.
There are many school systems throughout the country that don’t formally sanction a GSA within their schools. Thankfully, from everything I’ve seen and heard today, we are dealing with an exceptionally enlightened school system. It remains to be seen whether that is enough to take the next step in this circumstance, but the vibes I received initially were good. The concept of a GSA seems appropriate in an environment where diversity abounds in a productive atmosphere. We know we have at least two students who want to take the lead and I believe there are at least a few faculty members that would be onboard to make sure it works effectively. Lastly, I know a few PFLAG members that would be willing to offer their assistance.
In the meantime, I’ll await an email from the two students and will send them the literature I promised them. I have no idea when the School Board can give the go ahead but Metro DC PFLAG will be ready to lend a hand. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; there can never be too many straight allies. What better place to start developing them than within our halls of learning?
January 19, 2012