By Steven Zimmerman
About two years ago I covered an amazing event, the TuTu’s Against Bullying Fashion Show. When a friend of mine saw my photos from that event, he thought I had to be joking.
“Man,” he told me (I’m not going to name him, but I should), “it happens to everyone. It’s not bad. Man, it builds character.”
So, it builds character. It’s not a bad thing, bullying. My friend even went so far as to say it’s just “good-natured teasing between kids.”
Let me think about that for a moment…
I was a student at Omar Bradley Elementary and H. E. Charles Jr. High. We are going back almost thirty-three years here, that’s a long time. Yet to this day, I can recall the name of every single person who “teased” me, who helped me “build character.”
I can recall every single event, act, push, punch and beating I endured as part of this “good-natured teasing between kids.”
Those events, and what happened when I got my first on-air job at a radio station here in El Paso have colored the way I think, the way I act, and the way I interact with others. Everything is as clear now, today as if it just happened yesterday.
Our world hasn’t changed all that much. Kids are being bullied. They are being tortured, for lack of a better word, at the hands of fellow students, and we’re not going enough to stop it.
I can almost imagine you rolling your eyes at my use of the word “tortured.” Let’s look up the definition of the word torture to see if I’m too far off base: Torture: past tense: tortured; past participle: tortured. 1) inflict severe pain on. “Most of the victims had been brutally tortured.” 2) cause great mental suffering or anxiety too. “He was tortured by grief.”
That first definition, the synonyms are inflicted pain on, ill-treat, abuse, mistreat, maltreat, persecute. I think I used the right word here.
My time at Bradley and H. E. Charles were a living hell. Back then, when I tried to speak up about what was happening, I was told that no one likes a tattle-tail. Oh, and my favorite, “when you tell on someone you are telling on yourself. You’re telling them that you are a tattle-tail.”
Sadly, there are more than a few adults that think along the same lines today. They can’t be bothered; they can’t take the time out of their day to ensure that their precious angel is not abusing the kids around him. Far too many parents seem to think that their child can do no wrong.
Take Miss Redd, from the TuTu’s Against Bullying Fashion Show, as an example.
“There’s an ongoing thing at every school,” says Miss Redd. “Everywhere, actually, not just the schools.” Her son is in a special needs class. When he has an episode, when he is stressed, there is bullying.
“I dropped my son off one day, back in February of this year,” she recalls. “When I picked him up, it was only ten minutes shy of the bell ringing, at 3:15 when I got a call from the nurse.”
That call, the nurse explained, Miss Redd’s son had been injured. They told her not to worry, that the bleeding had already stopped.
The child who attacked Miss Redd’s son, a nine-year-old, nothing was done. They moved him to another classroom, but that was it. He was not charged because, as the school said, he’s only nine. Her son, a sweet, trusting child, beaten simply because he was different.
Miss Redd’s son, he’s okay, physically. Mentally, I know this will haunt him for the rest of his life. Events like Miss Redd’s fashion show are good at raising awareness of the situation.
It was while I was at her fashion show, that I saw a woman, an unassuming educator who took the stage.
Using a zebra puppet named Zoila she presented a story, one that can be used in elementary schools to teach that bullying is not the answer, is not fun, and that there is another way.
Juanita Q Gandara is the woman behind Zoila. She was born in Juarez and came to the United States as a young girl. Juanita attended University and eventually became a counselor within the Socorro school district.
Juanita has created a program called Zoila’s Words of Wisdom.
“The anti-bullying program is one that I wish I had as a counselor,” she said.
Zoila’s Words of Wisdom is a program that teaches children how to solve problems, such as bullying, on their own.
“It’s considered a social-emotional-learning program, and that’s important,” said Juanita Gandara. “It teaches the whole child, meaning that we not only help them physically, emotionally they need to be well in order to make good choices.”
I can agree with that. When you are stressed out, worrying about what you are going to face with the coming day, it can interfere with making choices at all. When you are a child, it is worse.
Ms. Gandara wants to live her second dream, determined to make a positive difference in our local schools.
The program is geared, again, towards elementary schools and focuses on the five WOWs – or Words of Wisdom – are focused on improving a child’s outlook.
The WOWs are:
The Golden Rule treat others the way you want to be treated
Be your best self
If you’re angry, stop and think before you act
Communication speak honestly
Being a good listener
The book is very colorful and engaging for children, and catchy. The way it’s written, the way it rhymes will help the message stick.
The teacher’s guide takes educators through the steps of implementing this program with their students. There are activities, such as role-playing, that help children act out the WOWs and how to use them in their daily lives.
“It’s plain and simple, to the point,” said Ms. Gandara. “There are wonderful programs out there, but they are lengthy. Sometimes, as a counsellor, I wanted something that works now. So, that’s what I created.”
Ms. Gandara’s program does fill a need. It is simple, easy, and can be implemented in any school environment or program. It’s something I do hope the school districts here in El Paso will consider.