by Kirk Hittinger, Head of School, Wyncote Academy
It was a terrifying incident of bullying that took place back in January. Thirteen year old Nadin Khoury was beaten by a group of bigger, older students who hung him on a fence and recorded the attack on their phones. They then posted their video on the Internet for the entire world to see, hoping to further embarrass and humiliate Nadin. But unlike many victims, Nadin stood up to his attackers and identified them to the police. They were briefly suspended, but eventually returned to Nadin’s public school.
Thirty miles away, I was the Head of School at Wyncote Academy, a small, private college prep school located just north of Philadelphia. I knew Nadin could not flourish in his old school and thought I knew what he felt like. You see, I too was bullied when I was Nadin’s age.
After seeing Nadin’s story, I shared my memories of being bullied with some of my colleagues and found that most of us had stories to share. It was then that we realized how commonplace bullying really is. Together, we decided to take a stand against bullying and to send out a message to others.
So I reached out to Nadin and made an offer he was happy to accept…a full scholarship to Wyncote Academy and a chance to start over in a safe and nurturing environment with a strong anti-bullying policy.
Today, Nadin is happy and successful at Wyncote Academy. And both Nadin and I have received national recognition for the tough journey that brought us together. But we have also learned the importance of sharing our message with others.
Bullying: A Growing Concern
Once considered a “right of passage,” bullying has taken on new urgency as it becomes clear that bullying can lead to serious consequences. Advising students to just “toughen up” in not effective in light of the extreme measures bullies adopt to torment their victims. National surveys reveal that bullying generally begins in the elementary grades, peaks in middle school, and persists into high school.
Wyncote Academy works hard to remain at the forefront of the anti-bullying movement. We know the research shows that bullying must be addressed on the institutional level. At Wyncote we have adopted a zero-tolerance bullying policy. But beyond just strong policies, we work hard to educate and change the mindset that leads to bullying.
A Proactive Approach
Wyncote Academy is a co-ed school educating students in grades six through twelve. Approximately 100 students are enrolled in our college preparatory curriculum. In recent years, more and more of our students have come from situations where they were bullied.
Our anti-bullying curriculum is twofold: it ensures that bullying does not occur and deals with the emotional trauma that bullying causes. It is also designed to prevent those who have been bullied from adopting the aggressive behavior of their aggressors. Included in our curriculum are social skills training, preventative programs for students and parents and counseling from our school psychologist. This strategy has worked very well for us and has contributed to a welcoming school environment.
Wyncote’s teachers get to know their students as individuals, so they are tuned into changes in behavior or demeanor which may suggest that something is wrong. They are also encouraged to be vigilant in observing what goes on throughout our community. So if a child appears depressed or marginalized, we are prepared to take action.
But even more important, we focus on building strong relationships among the staff and our students. Students are not assigned advisors; they select an advisor with whom they are comfortable so they can talk to them if issues arise. As a result, students feel comfortable enough to discuss issues with their teachers and their friends. That’s where the healing begins and the community develops.
As for Nadin? He now blends in with his classmates and is just one of the guys.
“A lot of other kids go through the same thing I did and some got even worse. The only difference with me was that they took a picture. But it still happens every day. I don’t want anybody else to ever feel the same way I felt. When it happened to me, I thought it would never stop. Bad kids do things to good kids and it’s not fair to get bullied. Go to someone you trust – find someone that will help you to stop it.
Now look at me – I’m here with people who love me, people who helped me out, people who push me to strive to be the best I can be!”
Kirk Hittinger is Head of School, Wyncote Academy
Photo courtesy of Wyncote Academy