Grand Haven district students, staff take a stand against bullying

Bullying in schools has evolved from the stereotypical after-school rumbles at the playground to more verbal and written remarks that local school officials say are equally as damaging. With recently progressive developments in technology, vulgar text messages and Facebook posts have joined the ranks of "trash talk' as a profound form of bullying. Students and staff of the Grand Haven Area Public Schools district say they are witnessing these more common bullying methods at all school levels and aim to put an end to it.
Kyle Moroney
Sep 24, 2011


“We know it’s not a problem that can be solved overnight,” said Emma Baty, a junior at Grand Haven High School. “But we’re going to try our hardest to make sure every kid comes to school every day and feels safe.”

Last year, the school district established the Capturing Kids’ Hearts program that helps to build positive, productive and trusting relationships among staff and students. In addition, GHAPS staff underwent three days of anti-bullying training prior to the start of this school year, and there are anti-bullying committees at the district level and at each of the district’s schools.

Recently, GHHS students generated their own awareness program, called “Bucs Above Bullying: Don’t be a Zebra,” to stomp out bullying in their school.

Baty, 17, explained that students came up with the “zebra” theme after learning that, when a predator attacks a zebra, the other zebras nearby don’t help.

Instead, the herd just stands back and watches the attack, according to Baty.

“We don’t want to be bystanders to bullying,” said Baty, the managing editor at the school’s newspaper, the Bucs’ Blade. “... That is just as big or bigger than bullying.”

The campaign is focused on students stepping in, getting involved and assisting other classmates who are being bullied. Students presented a skit during an all-school pep assembly, re-affirming their stance that bullying is unacceptable behavior.

“We don’t want anyone to feel scared,” Baty said. “We want them to feel accepted.”

Earlier this week, Baty and GHHS senior Jared Bollaert, president of the school’s Student Senate, discussed the anti-bullying efforts at the Grand Haven school board meeting.

“We want to change the culture of our school, and have kids be happy to go to school and not dread it,” Bollaert said during the meeting.

He and others plan to develop instruction and skits to take to the middle school students to help them understand that bullying is inappropriate behavior.
Cyberbullying and sarcasm

Last spring, GHHS and Central High School students were surveyed about bullying in their schools. Results indicated that students felt bullying was an issue, but more so at the middle school level, according to GHHS Principal Tracy Wilson. The surveys also revealed that student intervention would be more effective in curbing bullying than an adult stepping in to help.

“The biggest issue we see is with the technology,” Wilson said. “Even though it’s not going on during school, it’s coming into school because of what happened on Facebook last night.”

Cyberbullying is the biggest reoccurring issue the nine Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department school liaison officers throughout the county see in schools, according to Sgt. Valerie Weiss, the school resource supervisor.

“It’s such a big thing right now — Facebook makes it that much worse,” Weiss said. “... We just have more avenues to (bully) now that we didn’t have 10, 15 years ago.”

Already this year, students have been charged with harassment in connection to bullying, according to Weiss.

“Once we sit down with them and they know what the consequences are, normally the (behavior) stops,” she said. “It starts out young — and it’s really scary how young kids are learning bullying behavior.”

The most common types of bullying that Grand Haven staff at the high school and middle schools are seeing are “subtle” — such as name-calling, sarcasm and excluding others, they said.

“A lot of times, we’re dealing with the fallout of out-of-school behaviors,” said Bob Coyne, assistant principal at White Pines Middle School.

Sarcasm is a prevalent form of bullying at the school, despite several class-written social contracts that hang in each classroom, ranking the behavior as offensive, according to Coyne. White Pines staff members do not typically see severe cases of verbal bullying; but more often kids are not living up to their social contracts, or are having a bad day and taking out their frustration on the people around them.

“In general, middle school kids are very impulsive,” Coyne said. “They’ll say something and think they’re being funny, when it comes off to somebody else as hurtful. We tell them that we take that seriously, and these are the consequences and this is the effect it has.

“The emotional part is something that is more difficult to see — but I think it’s equally, if not more, harmful,” he added.

Promoting positive behavior

Coyne explained that students generally experience a lot of change when they get to middle school, and that staff members teach and re-emphasize what is appropriate behavior in various parts of the building and reward them for that behavior. The school offers several programs that provide opportunities for students to exude anti-bullying techniques and help make sure that everyone is included, Coyne said.

“What we focus on is positive behavior and help kids extinguish negative behavior,” he said.

Teachers in the district’s elementary schools are also reviewing similar programs with their students — even as young as kindergartners.

“On behalf of all the elementary schools, every school has a positive behavior initiative in place right now,” said Valerie Livingston, principal at Mary A. White Elementary School. “We word everything in a positive way and we teach positive behavior so they know what it means.”

Livingston said teachers and staff clearly explain what bullying means to students so they can identify the behavior.

“It may be a look, it may be a gesture — anything that is intended to hurt someone’s feelings,” she said.

Ignoring bullying issues will only exasperate the problem, school officials have said.

“A bully becomes a bully because it gives them power,” Livingston said. “If we ignore it, that gives them power. ... When one child steps up to a bully — no matter the age — it shuts the bully down.”

Abolishing toilet-papering

As GHHS students look forward to Homecoming Week that begins Monday, school and student leaders are asking their peers to refrain from “toilet-papering” residential neighborhoods.

“We want homecoming to be about homecoming again and not about t-p’ing,” Baty said.

Wilson explained that toilet-papering a residential property was thought to be a “right of passage” for the upperclassmen, and freshmen were considered “cool” if they were chosen to participate.

“Now, it’s turned more vindictive and nasty,” she said, explaining that houses have been egged and paintballed. “All kinds of things that, and in my opinion, is out of control. And that’s not good, clean fun.”

A recent edition of the Bucs’ Blade included stories from its editorial staff and the Student Senate that encouraged the end of “TP week.” Letters about the issue were recently sent to GHHS parents to support the effort.

“Let’s focus on the positive things of Homecoming Week,” Wilson said.

GHHS Homecoming Week events include a movie night at the football stadium on Monday, a powderpuff game on Wednesday, the Homecoming football game on Friday and dance on Saturday.

“Our hope is that we eliminate all forms of bullying, and provide an environment where students feel comfortable and safe when they come to school,” Wilson said. “I’m proud of my students and staff, and that kids are taking a stand against something.”



I think it great that the kids and administration are stepping up their efforts to try and thwart bullying.

What I find confusing is the new principal's answer to the topic of dress code at GHHS in the BUCS' Blade. She was asked if there would be any changes regarding the dress code. This is a direct quote from that paper. "As far as student code of conduct policies and all of those other things, it's all about being consistent. The hard part if with 1800 plus students, that's the issue with a building this size. Be honest, we all speed from time to time, but we all don't get caught."

Well Mrs. Wilson you are correct in your statement about speeding. But with you and two assistant principals at GHHS, you should be able to get a handle on these 1800 plus students. After all, that is what you are getting your six figure salary for. It is time to earn it, and not turn a blind eye on the problems at GHHS. With your answer to the question about the dress code, you proved you are more than willing to turn a blind eye. You simply dodged the question altogether about the dress code in the first place. You talk about being consistent, but you are not showing with your actions, or your answer to that question.


Kudos to these kids for standing up and doing the right thing. Yes, the Internet has opened up a whole new world of bullying and prayerfully there will be more groups of kids coming against it.

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I think the anti-bullying programs need to start in elementary level by the time they've gotten into middle school it's already out of control. I also think the parents of these kids should be held accountable in some way the school staff can only do so much it really needs to be a joint effort.

Mark Brooky

What these kids and staff are doing is great. But they have been given some bad information about zebras, and that's giving zebras a bad rap.

It is a myth that zebras stand around, do nothing and watch one of their family being mauled by a lion. In reality, zebras are very protective of their own, and take care of their old and weak. I say: DO BE A ZEBRA!

Here's National Geographic's take:

"Zebras must be constantly wary of lions and hyenas. A herd has many eyes alert to danger. If an animal is attacked, its family will come to its defense, circling the wounded zebra and attempting to drive off predators."

And from

"Zebras are important prey for lions and hyenas, and to a lesser extent for hunting dogs, leopards and cheetahs. When a family group is attacked, the members form a semicircle, face the predator and watch it, ready to bite or strike should the attack continue. If one of the family is injured the rest will often encircle it to protect it from further attack."

"Family members look out for one another if one becomes separated from the rest, the others search for it. The group adjusts its traveling pace to accommodate the old and the weak."



Now your encouraging the kids to form a semi-circle like a zebra herd and attack the bullies. Nonsense! I do say we should call PETA about this egregious slander on Zebra's though.

In the end justice is always served. The jocks become ditch diggers and mechanics and the nerds become CIOs of large companies. Ahhh Karma.

Mark Brooky

I get your tongue-in-cheek comment, Koop. But the zebras don't attack as much as protect their own and try to scare off a solo lion. That's the message I think the anti-bullying group is trying to get across.

So, yes: Be a zebra!


When the bullies are the so called "popular" one will tell them to stop. And believe me, this does start in grade school and continues...


Being the parent of a child that has a disability I hear it everyday, the comments might be like that boy scares me or let's go stand over here. They may not think that is being a bully but it is. What do you do as a parent? Do you say something?


Yes as the parent you say something! That's one of the worst forms of bullying! For other kids to react that way about your child (not sure the age), and continually get away with it just spreads the "hate and ignorance" if you will...and won't stop unless you or a teacher/parapro steps in and stops it.
Everyone should feel safe and accepted throughout the school day. Ahh, but then it gets touchy. Say this "bully" is the child of the PTA president or a teachers kid, or someones child on the board? There's no easy answer to that. Parents talk, spread the thing you know the moms aren't talking to YOU anymore either. A lot of the bullying starts at home! (we all know that) The idea of the t-shirt "don't be a zebra" was a little too cute for me. Is it politically incorrect just to state it like it is, "STOP BEING A BULLY!!" If you have to explain the whole zebra thing, the point doesn't get across! You're talking about ANIMALS and the FOOD CHAIN here...NOT about children and young adults, who can get so depressed because they are being bullied EVERYDAY, they would actually consider taking their own lives...just to have it stop??


I already have a hard time with other parents talking to me because I am the mom of a child that has a disability. But, yeah that was my worry was it being on the toughy edge of things.... I say stuff to the kids in my neighborhood but they all go to a diff school district so I dont have to see their parents at school. I also agree about having the shirts just say "STOP BEING A BULLY!!" why not just put it out there like that instead of hiding it behind a different word. Dont get me wrong I love the concept but it still seems like it is something to be ashamed of when you have to use the word Zebra instead of what it really is. I think it would be a good idea to hold an assembly about it and include the parents and have it at every grade level.


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