EVENING VOCATIONAL SCHOOL OF AGIOI ANARGIRI ATHENS - GREECE “BULLYING AND THE MEDIA” COMENIUS PROJECT
“THE SEA MONSTER …”
Nectaria was a sixteen-year old student at a vocational high school of Western Attica; she was characterized as a student with learning difficulties and was overweight. Despite her parentsâ€™ continuous efforts to help her lose weight, Nectaria did not manage to overcome her weight problem.
She had a really hard time while she was at primary school where she spent most of her time alone, since she did not manage to make any friends and was always alone; she was frequently victimized with tormenting comments about her weight. Every morning she refused to go to school and her refusal manifested itself with acute vomiting.
The first time Nectaria ever got close to making a friend was when she attended the second form of vocational high school. It was then that she met Themelina who seemed to be the only one to accept Nectaria. For the last four years the latter had been known to everybody at school under the knick name of â€œwhaleâ€?.. Every now and then her schoolmates would stick pieces of paper with a whale drawn on it at her back. Nectaria had stopped fighting back although she frequently thought of dropping out of school.
On October 19, 2011
Tzortzis, a sixteen-year-old tall handsome young guy came to her school and seemed to like her.
She was frequently chatting on the Internet which had been her retreat for the last four years since in this way she could secure a fake self-image with a profile depicting a slim tall adolescent girl. Nectaria became Tzortzisâ€™s friend on the internet and started chatting and exchanging messages with him. She revealed her secret affection for Tzortzis to her one and only friend, Themelina.
On November 24,
a month later, her interest in Tzortzis and her fake profile were made known to everybody at school.
On December 5, while she was chatting on facebook, some fellow girl students who made fun of her in and out of school, uploaded a video which featured Nectaria to weep alone in the school toilets. Other uploaded photos showed Nectaria hanging around different spots at school all by herself. Under the photos insulting comments such as “the whale” “… the sea monster sits and weeps” had been written.
The morning of the following day, Nectariaâ€™ parents informed the head teacher about the serious incident. They requested he look into the case and find out who had uploaded on the net the video and the photos with the offensive comments. They stressed that if he did not find the girls who victimized their daughter, they would proceed to sue the school and take any other suitable legal steps in order to protect the mental health of their daughter.
The school principal convened the board of teachers and informed them about what had happened. The teachers could not believe their ears and almost everyone testified that they hadnâ€™t noticed anything. As far as Nectaria was concerned, they noted that she was an obese and introvert student with learning difficulties but they could never have imagined that she would go that far so as to try to kill herself because of the rejection she experienced at school. Yet, the uploading of the video and the photos of Nectaria within the school premises problematized the teachers
The teacher responsible for Nectariaâ€™s class said she had attempted to approach her because she could see that during recess she was left alone. Nectaria was very reserved and assured her she was fine. Besides, the teacher had observed that four girls made fun of her but she thought it wasnâ€™t that important.
As soon as the school principal heard that, he requested the names of these girls be disclosed and later on invited them in front of the board of school teachers. Upon hearing about the incident with Nectaria, they denied having been involved but as soon as the head teacher announced that Nectariaâ€™s parents were going to call the police e-crime unit to take over the case they were terrified and pleaded guilty.
The school master had their parents invited to school and informed them about the incident. He also informed them that the board of teachers had decided to expel them from school as they had broken the school rules concerning the use of mobile phones and other electronic devices but mostly because their behavior had forced a fellow student to a suicidal attempt.
Nectariaâ€™s case threw the school into turmoil. Nectaria decided to return to the same school after Christmas holidays. For the three following months Nectariaâ€™s performance at school suffered. With the help of a psychologist who counseled her after her suicidal attempt, she tried to regain her strength, boost her self-esteem while a special dietician helped her lose weight and win a place at school. Unfortunately, she was not always successful and used to lose interest in learning and in her participation in the learning process, falling back in depressive attitudes.
Her fellow students who by then had heard about the incident were divided into two groups: to those who sympathized with her and tried to make her feel secure and win her trust. Some girls even started seeking her company outside school as well. On the other hand, there were some students who thought that Nectariaâ€™s behavior was exaggerated and silly. They thought that she was depressive and they usually spoke about the incident behind her back.
On the other hand, the four girls who had changed schools struggled to come to terms with the comments of their new environment and had great difficulty in becoming part of the new school community and concentrate on their school work. . At the beginning, their school performance deteriorated but approximately after three months they started becoming part of their new school environments and their leadership tendencies towards their fellow students manifested themselves.
Gradually their school performance improved and one of them even managed to rally round her the most undisciplined and wildest school girl. The criticizing comments of their school and wider social circled did not discourage them To this day, they still believe that Nectaria had psychological problems and their jokes were just the occasion that instigated her suicidal attempt.
The staff of the school tried to approach Nectaria and make her feel comfortable, and prompted her to become part of the school community. The teachers started assigning work in groups so as to involve her actively not only in the learning but also in the collaborative and participatory process, especially because they aimed to change her negative attitude towards her school and her fellow students.
She was not collaborative and she didn’t seem to be convinced by their attitude. She was still obese and this in itself created difficulties not only in her presence in the classroom but also in her accession to the wider school community. Her negative stance instigated her fellow students’ negative attitude and everything seemed to be revolving around a vicious circle and till the end of the school year the nickname of “whale” was still whispered, though less often.
THE VICTIM’S PROFILE
THE VICTIMâ€™S PROFILE
A few months after her suicidal attempt, Nectaria was still in a fragile psychological state. Her parents had been divorced the year before and she used to spend a lot of time in her grandmaâ€™s house. She experienced problems every day because of the attitude her fellow students had towards her. She often complained to her mother about the pranks and the jokes they made at her at school. The reason was her obesity and the learning difficulties she faced.
The victim has a low self-esteem and regards himself/herself as a loser or feels embarrassed. As a result the victim becomes more isolated and this increases the possibilities of revictimisation. Besides, the victim displays changes in their behavior such as school negation, fear to develop relationships with other children, intense feelings of disappointment and anxiety along with physical symptoms such as headache, stomachache and the like. Quite frequently the victim has learning difficulties because of the fact that school life becomes unbearable for the victim; as a result their school performance suffers and eventually the victim quits any effort.
According to bibliography on bullying, Nectaria had become the mirror of the whole situation. She was reserved as she could not counter the nasty comments of the other girls. Very often she would ask her parents to change school. She complained that she did not have any friends; that some girls were violent and aggressive. As a result of the ongoing bullying, after three months Nectaria could not stand it any longer and wanted to take revenge. She took the pills and soon she lost consciousness.
THE VICTIMIZERS’ PROFILE
THE VICTIMIZERSâ€™ PROFILE
The four girls, Themelina, Margarita, Lia and Irene confessed that they mostly ridiculed their schoolmates who had special characteristics so as to maintain their place among the rest of the students. They believed that they were superior to them. In this way, they claimed leadership in the eyes of their fellow students; they were very popular and as a result they were elected to serve as embers of the student board. It never occurred to them that their actions could have serious repercussion for their fellow student.
THE PROFILE OF THE OTHER STUDENTS AT NECTARIA’S SCHOOL
THE PROFILE OF THE OTHER STUDENTS AT NECTARIAâ€™S SCHOOL
The next day the news spread by word of mouth. Everybody heard what had happened. Many schoolmates criticized the girlsâ€™ inappropriate behavior. They said they were selfish, violent and they often threatened other schoolmates as well. They mentioned that other students, like Nectaria herself, fell victim to their mockery. However, Nectaria was too shy and sensitive to be able to stand up for herself. It was also mentioned that they did not defend Nectaria or approach her for fear of getting into similar trouble
In addition, they said they did not spoke to the school principal about the girls’ nasty behavior because they were afraid of their possible victimization. Some girls said they had seen the pictures and the video on facebook that same afternoon and five of them posted “like” to show that they approved of Themelina’s and her friends’ actions. They wanted to be on good terms with the victimizers so as to avoid getting bullied.
THE SCHOOL TEACHERS
THE SCHOOL TEACHERS
The teachers of the school maintained that they had not realized the dimensions of the problem and had acted according to regulations concerning the studentâ€™s learning difficulties. Only a teacher noted that she was isolated and always hesitant. ď ˝ As regarded the problematic behavior of the victimizers, many teachers favoured the view that these girls should get psychological support.
All the members of the school board agreed that these girls should be punished severely, even undergoing change of school environment, the hardest punishments a student can get. In addition, they suggested their action be made known to all students so as to serve as a deterrent to similar behavior. Finally, the teachers tried to console Nectaria and unquestionably supported her. Yet, none of the teachers took the initiative to organize meetings and events on the issue of bullying.
THE SCHOOL PRINCIPLE
THE SCHOOL PRINCIPLE
Once informed about the incident, the school principal immediately held a meeting with the board of teachers and let them know about it. When the teacher who was responsible for Nectariaâ€™s class gave her testimony, the girls who had uploaded the aforementioned material were spotted and the school principal along with the board of teachers unanimously decided that the bullies who videotaped their schoolmate inside the school premises and ridiculed her on facebook should be expelled from school.
The students were brought in front of the teachersâ€™ board and after their confession their parents were summoned to school where the school principal announced their irreversible decision to expel the four girls from school. He even suggested each girl be enrolled to a different school so as to put an end to their everyday association. He also informed Nectariaâ€™s parents that both he and the board of teachers would go to great lengths to do their best so as to help their daughter feel better at school and become part of the school community.
Nectaria’s parents had heard her complaining many times about her schoolmates’ jokes as well as her objections to her new school. Yet, they thought it was transient and very soon her daughter would adapt to her new surroundings. They couldn’t believe that she had reached such a fragile psychological state so as to attempt suicide. Their increased workload and their personal attempt to adjust themselves to the new situation after their divorce did not allow them to realize their daughter’s problem and take her complaints seriously.
On the other hand, the parents of the bullies could not believe that it was their children who had caused such a serious incident. They tried to listen to their children’s views who claimed that what they had done was simply a joke among adolescents. Although they had to accept their children’s expulsion from this school, they left claiming that their children’s jokes were not so serious a cause so as to make Nectaria attempt suicide and that her parents should look somewhere else so as to pinpoint the reason for their daughter’s attempt.
THE SCHOOL OFFICER
THE SCHOOL OFFICER
The school officer did not intervene once the incident was revealed. Yet, his/her contribution to managing similar situations is necessary. Parents and teachers should have sought the school officerâ€™s help so as to refer the victimizers to specialists, i.e. psychologists in case there had been any changes in the childrenâ€™s emotional condition and their behavior.
THE ROLE OF THE STATE
THE ROLE OF THE STATE
There are no references to the role of the state since the incident was dealt with within the school community and Nectariaâ€™s parents did not take the issue further, because they probably thought that if they referred their case to the courts, this would be against their daughterâ€™s benefit. The police who were informed about the incident confined themselves to take testimonies and their involvement had a purely consultative character.
It has become clear by now that the child who is introvert, reserved and has a physical defect is often bullied at school. In Nectariaâ€™s case, she was desperate and felt hatred towards her schoolmates because she couldnâ€™t stand their abusive comments about her weight. She later confessed to the hospital psychologist that she wanted to exert violence on herself in order to take revenge on them.
The reason that caused the above incident was the conceited stance and attitude of the three girls who wanted, as they later admitted, to impose themselves on the rest of the students and stand out in the school community. They wanted to be acceptable as leaders by mocking and taunting children unable to resist them.
On the other hand, the board of teachers and the school principal hadnâ€™t observed some offense on behalf of these students or at least had not assessed it as such since the victim had not lodged a complaint against them. Lack of communication between the student, her family and school was the reason why his crisis arose. Teachers did not make any efforts to approach an introvert student as they should have done.
It seems that the teachers did not communicate with the victimizers either since their behavior was deviant even before the incident. . The school principal tried to appease frayed tempers and prevent similar behaviours in the future.
In addition, the rest of the students who were aware of the incident did not refer the incident to the school authorities for fear that they could find themselves in a similar situation; instead, they followed the victimizers on facebook and at the same time they voted them so as to be elected as members of the studentsâ€™ board.
Supported by a psychologist, her teachers and schoolmates, Nectaria managed to become part of the school community. Following discussions between the students and their teachers, and lectures of specialists on the issue of bullying at school, the awareness of her classmates and schoolmates at large about school bullying and diversity has been considerably raised.