House Bill 1942, the Texas anti-bully law aimed at combating the growing problem of bullying in schools, took effect on Sept. 1. State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, carried the bill in the senate; she championed the cause for those who lost children from suicide because of bullying.
"We've all heard the adage 'sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,'” said Van de Putte. “That may be as it relates to teasing, and what we're talking about here in bullying is not just teasing. This is when children and students feel so threatened that they fear for harm, physical harm to themselves, or their property. It's about a constant harassment."
The bill requires each district to have it's own policy on bullying, and districts like the San Antonio ISD trained principals and counselors, but H.B. 1942 does allows each campus to develop and adopt its own programs.
Cynthia Martinez, a counselor at Longfellow Middle School, developed a program called T.H.I.N.K..
"So the T stands for: Is it truthful?” Martinez began. “The H stands for: Is it helpful? The I is for: Is it inspiring? And the N is for: Is it necessary? And finally, the K: Is it kind?"
Martinez said she got the idea from Pinterest, a social media site that allows users to pin things they like to their virtual pin board; ironically, social media is one way that bullying is growing.
“Especially with the technology, the Facebook, the texting, although those things aren't supposed to happen on campus, we are very aware that the ramifications from Facebook and texting do come on campus,” said Martinez.
Longfellow Principal Liz Solis said she is proud of Martinez' idea. Once a month, the counselors go into core classrooms to talk to students about how to treat one another better.
Solis believes a state-wide law sends a message about how severe bulling has become.
"Our response has always been proactive,” she said. “We certainly don't want to be reactive and work with students and give them the skills and the tools to address any challenges that they may encounter."
Giving students tools to make a difference
8th grader Sierra Valdez, a new student at Longfellow this year, said what she and her friends are learning helps them feel empowered to take a stand for those they see being picked on.
"I think we just want to make every victim of bullying feel like you're not alone," said Valdez.
Many kids, like 8th grader Arthur Mendiola, are teased constantly.
“I've had some people think that, oh, because you're Hispanic, you're not going to go very far,” he said. “It just makes me want to try harder."
More than just teasing
Van de Putte says she's happy to learn that schools like Longfellow are doing more than the bare minimum.
"No child should feel in such fear that they cannot learn," said Van de Putte.
Judson ISD launched an app for students to report bullying. Others are hosting rallies, 5k runs, and some are shooting public service announcements developed by the students.
For counselors like Martinez who see bullying first hand, they realize it's an epidemic, but she says it will take time to change the culture inside the school walls.
"You know, because they will make mistakes,” Martinez acknowledged. “But we like these questions because they could help them reflect and really see what they could do next time and what they could have done to make it not be in this situation."
Martinez said she thinks it's a great step in shaping happier students who can embrace learning, rather than fearing it.