The beginning of the school year is less than two weeks away. Parents and children are busy shopping for spiral notebooks and bouquets of number-two pencils as the dog days of summer begin to break.
Although many can see this time of year through a haze of sweet nostalgia, for some like Danny Fitzpatrick it was a nightmare. Danny is the 13-year-old Staten Island native, who attended Holy Angels Catholic Academy in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and took his life after taking pen to paper to describe years of bullying that he felt wasn’t alleviated by his reporting to teachers and administration.
It is difficult during childhood to see outside the context of school and those pre-adolescent musings of what matters. Children can be fickle and cruel in their attempts to fit in. The modern-day master of horror, Stephen King, has frequently used bullying and unrelentingly obtuse adults as the premise for many of his terrifying novels. The premise works because we all still contend with those fears long into adulthood. In an interview many years ago, King confessed he drew on many of his own experiences with bullying at the hands of his older brother and fellow students in creating his works.
Ana Zambrano-Burakov, the principal of the High School of Arts and Business in Corona, which has one of the highest graduation rates in the city, explained that one of their methods to keep students engaged is concentrating on their social and home life if their grades begin to slip. She believes that a student can’t move forward academically until those issues are addressed and resolved.
As the school year begins, let’s take a look back at those years and realize our children may carry the burden of bullying longer than we know. It is our responsibility to pay attention to their problems and not dismiss them, no matter how trivial they may appear.