Monique McClain, a seventh grader, stood up before the Middletown Board of Education (BOE) in February and in a quiet and sometimes tearful voice recounted how she had been repeatedly bullied by fellow students. One in particular had harmed her verbally, psychologically, and physically. After months of routine harassment that made her afraid to go to school, Monique’s mother, Alycia McClain, finally pulled her out of the Middletown public middle school, Woodrow Wilson. McClain asked the school to honor their policy and grant her daughter free tutoring until she could be transferred to another school, but the school and the local Board of Education have so far refused to grant this request.
We have all been there. Most of us have suffered bullying at the hands of someone else, some of us have been bullies ourselves, and others have been both bully and victim. Most of us have received anti-bullying lectures in grade school, know the statistics and the consequences of bullying, and are familiar with various anti-bullying campaigns.
So, for me, it’s not good enough to hear that someone was pulled out of school because she suffered harassment day after day and the school couldn’t adequately help her. Anyone from psychoanalysts to childhood education researchers to teens themselves can tell you that the middle school years are the time when adolescents are most vulnerable to peer pressure. Monique is surely not alone in having her self-esteem trampled upon.
Neither the Principal of Woodrow Wilson, Charles Marqua, nor BOE Chairman Theodore Raczka responded to my requests for comment. In other statements in The Middletown Eye, Principal Marqua and the BOE have maintained that they have followed their policy’s anti-bullying procedures.
Although they have questioned and suspended several offending students, the harassment has continued unabated. Clearly, a revision of the anti-bullying procedure is necessary to prevent future incidents of bullying. Marqua has only held his position since July, and this would be a great way for him to improve the school in his relatively newfound capacity.
Yet, neither Monique nor the bullies have received adequate attention from the school to address the root of the problem. Although Monique clearly bears psychological scars, surely the main tormentor also has scars and should receive support that addresses her motives for bullying. The most immediate, simple action Principal Marqua and the BOE should take is to grant Monique free tutoring until she can enroll in another school. In Middletown, students cannot transfer mid-semester, and other local schools use a lottery system to determine entry, making it impossible for Monique to switch schools this year. She has already missed months of education since the harassment started in September.
Wesleyan is one of the few universities in the U.S. to have a really close relationship with the community in which it resides; it’s time for us to take greater interest in Middletown. In this case, it’s very easy to show that we care and take action—all we need to do is apply pressure to the administration at Woodrow Wilson and the BOE and demand that they provide Monique with a tutor and revise their ineffective anti-bullying policy. We have an impressive tutoring network established at Wesleyan and perhaps the network’s leaders can offer to collaborate with Woodrow Wilson. Maybe we can start an organization of students who go into local schools and advocate against bullying. In any case, we should not remain silent. Our voices would make a great difference.
Alperstein is a member of the class of 2014.