Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a classroom discussion on bullying at the University of Puerto Rico High School in San Juan. Our Puerto Rico chapter is working with a number of students at the school who have developed a very effective anti-bullying presentation. I got to see the presentation being given to a 10th grade history class of about 25 students.
The class was mostly in Spanish, so I won’t pretend that I understood everything that was said. But it was clear that the two seniors leading the discussion, Gabriella and Jean Paul, really knew how to engage the students.
They started with a handout asking the students to mark the ideal qualities they were looking for in a boyfriend or girlfriend. The handout included categories such as skin color, hair style, nationality, and “style,” which included rocker, surfer and preppy among others. It also included sexual orientation, listing gay, straight and indifferent – the teacher explained that one, which she compared to being like a plant.
It’s been a while since I was in a classroom of 10th graders, so I really didn’t know what to expect when the subject of sexual orientation came up. There was no laughter or finger pointing. In fact, it wasn’t a big deal at all, really putting some perspective on all the fuss around rainbows.
Gabriella’s and Jean Paul’s presentation included some powerful examples of the real dangers of bullying. They showed the YouTube video of Florida teen Victoria Lindsay being ambushed and beaten by some of her classmates. They let me talk about 11-year-olds Carl Walker-Hoover from Massachusetts and Jaheem Herrera from Atlanta who took their own lives back in April after facing anti-gay bullying at their schools. The teacher talked about an instance at the school of a student attempting suicide over restroom graffiti.
They summed up the discussion by talking about Law 49, which, if it passes, will require schools in Puerto Rico to be much more vigilant about protecting students from bullying and harassment.
After class Gabriella told me that bullying at the school was worst among the 10th graders. You could tell she was genuinely concerned whether her presentation had made a difference. But it was clear to me that it already had. Kids were clamoring for the anti-bullying bracelets they handed out. The bracelets read, “No seas buey, Alto al bullying,” or “Don’t be a bull, Stop the bullying.” By standing up for something they believed in, she and Jean Paul had gained the respect of the 10th graders and reached the students in a way adults never could.