Taking a stand against bullying

We were all children. Whether we attended public or parochial schools, chances are that, then as now, bullying was a sad fact of life. As adults, we have been parents and babysitters, catechists and teachers and neighbors. We have struggled to find ways to deal with bullying from these perspectives as well.

I’ll admit, though, that I personally have not been as creative about it as fourth grade teacher Laura Snyder at Alamonte Elementary School in Alamonte Springs, Fla., when one of her students was bullied.

Snyder’s class regularly holds “college colors day.” Students wear apparel from their favorite college teams such as Notre Dame, UCLA or St. Norbert College. One of Snyder’s students loves the Vols (Volunteers) of the University of Tennessee (UT). However, he didn’t have any UT apparel. But he did have an orange T-shirt. (Tennessee is known as “Big Orange.”) So he took a piece of paper and designed large “U of T” logo. His mother helped pin it onto the shirt, which he proudly wore to school.

However, at lunch that day, the boy was teased about his shirt. He returned to his desk in tears. When Snyder learned why, she determined to get him a “real” Vols shirt before the next colors day. Creatively, she turned to Facebook.

“I know kids can be cruel, I am aware that it’s (the shirt) not the fanciest sign,” she posted Sept. 5. “BUT this kid used the resources he had available to him to participate in a spirit day. … I plan to get him a University of Tennessee shirt, but was wondering if anyone has any connections to the University of Tennessee.”

Her post went viral. And Tennessee alumni went crazy sending the boy UT gear (“swag” as some call it). Snyder also received a care package from the university itself, containing gear for the boy and for his entire class.

To cap it off, the school decided to print their own official T-shirt based on the boy’s design. Orders flooded in and overwhelmed the school’s website (utvolshop.com) Sept. 7. Some proceeds from each shirt will go to an anti-bulling website stompoutbullyng.org.

Even more magnanimously, UTK offered the boy a full scholarship. Needless to say, he (who remains unnamed for privacy) and his teacher are overwhelmed.

“My student has definitely felt the love and support from people all over the world,” Snyder posted.

Bullying is far too common, and comes in many forms — from verbal to physical to cyberbullying. Based on statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, the National Center for Education and stopbullying.gov, 20 to 30% of students today have been bullied. Given that children don’t always report bullying, the figures are probably higher.

How to stop bullying has been a priority in schools for years, with varying results. Forming support networks is one suggestion often given to teachers.

Snyder did just that — in a big way. Her support network for this child stretched around the country — if not the globe. And it also helped her class — where the bullying had started.

“This experience is uniting my class even more than I could have imagined,” Snyder posted, “and it was truly amazing to witness.”

Laura Snyder may not teach in a Catholic school, but her actions align with Pope Francis’ bullying advice. On June 21, the pope addressed the first online conference against bullying and cyberbullying, entitled “#StopCyberbullyingDay — 24h Scholas Talks,” organized by WeZum, the international youth observatory of the Pontifical Scholas Occurrentes Foundation at the Vatican.

“Bullying is a phenomenon of self-compensation, self-assessment, not of finding myself,” Pope Francis said, “but of decreasing the other to feel better. It means learning to look from top to bottom — and badly. Do not forget that it is only legitimate for one person to look (down) at another … when helping them to get up” (zenit.org).

Laura Snyder, the University of Tennessee and all Vols who stepped up, did just that. They helped a little boy get up and made him — and his classmates — feel good about themselves.

All it took was a little creativity and lots of support.