Standing up: One girl, one friend, many bullies

He's a seventh-grader at Tripp Middle School in Turner, active in sports and school plays, friends would say a nice guy. And nearly every day classmates called him "fag," "faggot" and "queer." Nearly every day someone punched him, at least one time in the crotch. Nearly every day he was ridiculed, harassed, bullied.

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Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

Amanda Fields, 13, a student at Tripp Middle School in Turner, has suffered retaliation for standing up for a friend who was being bullied at school.

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Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

Amanda Fields, 13, a student at Tripp Middle School in Turner, is pictured here with her mother, Marie Fields. Amanda has suffered retaliation for standing up for a friend who was being bullied at school.

 What experts say about preventing bullying:

• By law, Maine schools must have a written policy on bullying and harassment. Experts say those policies should define bullying, state that such behavior is unacceptable and outline how the school will respond to such incidents.

• Students should not be told to ignore bullying, to deal with it on their own or hit back. That can make bullying escalate.

• Students should feel free to tell an adult that they've seen or experienced bullying.

• Schools should give teachers and other faculty members the training they need to deal with bullying.

• Parents should be willing to advocate for their children if they've been bullied. That means raising the issue with the child's teacher first, then administrators, the principal or the school board if the issue isn't resolved. 

• Schools should make it clear that retaliation won't be tolerated and consequences for such retaliation will be swift.

• One-time anti-bullying programs don't work in the long run. Such programs need to be sustained.

• Schools should redirect and educate bullies rather than simply punish the behavior.

Amanda Fields had never seen anything like it in all of her 13 years.

"Random people. People he doesn't even talk to would come up to him and say, 'Hey, fag' or just kind of use very not good language," the eighth-grader said.

The boy is a friend of hers. For months she watched his torment and feared for his safety. She worried he'd hurt himself if the harassment got too much.  Then, one day this spring, she and a small group of friends told a guidance counselor about all of it. The bullies — more than five, Amanda believes, and less than 15 — were suspended.

Citing student privacy concerns, school administrators refused to talk about the situation or confirm the suspensions. The boy and his parents declined to speak publicly. Other Tripp Middle School students wrote about the incident online, but would not talk about it to the newspaper.

But Amanda would. She agreed to tell the story that started out as the boy's and has rapidly become her own.

Because since she and her friends told the guidance counselor, Amanda's gotten bullied, too. 

Standing up

Amanda met the boy early in the school year. They were in a school production together and both played sports after school. He was outgoing, talkative, nice.  He reminded Amanda of her little brother.

Slowly, she started noticing a disturbing trend: Other kids harassed him.

After nine years in school Amanda was familiar with teasing and taunting — "one person does something, another kid says something and, you know." She saw it all the time on the bus and in the classroom. This felt different.

"I began to see how serious the impact is. I had never really been a friend with anybody who got bullied or teased or called names or punched or kicked or anything. It kind of made me see more of what people actually do and the impact they have," she said. "It was firsthand and it was upfront and I knew the person a little bit better than the other people who get bullied or teased every day."

The boy didn't return the name-calling and didn't tell a teacher. He was afraid the bullying would get worse if he showed that it bothered him.

"He just kind of kept it to himself and tried not to talk about it too much," Amanda said.

But the situation got worse anyway. Name-calling turned into threats of violence. Threats of violence turned into actual violence. Once, in the cafeteria, Amanda watched a boy punch her friend as he went to dump his tray. Another time, also while they were at lunch, she saw someone punch him in the crotch. Amanda stood up to the bullies, told them to stop. It didn't seem to help.

As the school year went on, Amanda's outgoing friend turned quiet and withdrawn.

"He wasn't him anymore," Amanda said.

She worried about him, especially after learning that a Massachusetts student, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, had killed herself after months of alleged bullying.

"I was like, 'Oh my gosh, that's almost exactly where this might go if it's not stopped,'" Amanda said.

Soon after, a member of the school's Civil Rights Team, a group designed to combat violence, prejudice and bias in schools, read a quote during school announcements. The message — "If no one else will stand up with you, then stand up alone and you might make a difference" — resonated with Amanda. 

"I kind of thought, you know, if maybe even other people will stand up with me, then we can make a difference and not save the whole school but save this one kid," she said. "And maybe the message will get out to everyone."

With a small group of friends who had also seen the bullying, Amanda went to a guidance counselor.

Tripp Middle School policies prohibit bullying and harassment. When a student is accused of bullying, administrators investigate, talk with the students involved and make a decision: It happened or it didn't. If it happened, consequences vary depending, in part, on the severity of the bullying and whether it's a repeat offense. Consequences range from community service within the school to detention, suspension and expulsion. In the most severe, most violent cases, police may be called.

In this instance, according to Amanda, several students were suspended after an investigation. She believes more than five were asked to leave school for between two and 10 days, though school rumors put the number of suspended students at closer to 15. The school's principal would not confirm any number.   

Amanda said her seventh-grade friend wasn't pleased that she told a guidance counselor about his situation. But during the suspensions, she said, his school life got a lot better. The violence and harassment disappeared, even if many of the remaining students weren't exactly friendly.

"He kind of lets me know it's getting better. But at the same time, people aren't even looking at him anymore," she said. "It's, 'Don't say something in front of him because somebody might tell.' That whole kind of game that people play."

Although her friend's situation was getting better, Amanda's got a lot worse. 

Amanda had reported the bullying anonymously, but it didn't take long for someone to find out she was involved and spread word throughout the school. Suddenly, she found herself the brunt of harassment. She's been called at least one name the Sun Journal considers too profane to print.

"It hasn't gone as far as physical or anything, but names that adults don't even say. . . bitch and whore. Mostly names that don't even apply to anything that I'm doing. Just people want to put the blame on someone," she said. 

At first, Amanda regretted her decision to intervene.

"It hurts. It really does. People who I thought were my friends obviously aren't my friends now," she said. 

But that initial regret didn't last long.

"I know that this kid is happier," she said. "A lot happier."

Dealing with bullying

Although Tripp Middle administrators declined to comment on Amanda's situation specifically, they said dealing with bullying is a top priority. 

"If students don't feel safe — not just physically, but if they're worried about what might be said or what might happen — they're not going to be learning," said Tripp Middle's principal, Robert Kahler.

And, by all accounts, the school is following experts' recommendations when it comes to bullying.

The 350-student middle school has an active Civil Rights Team that works to engage students.  The Guidance Department embeds relationship skills and bullying prevention in the curriculum. The school surveys students every year about school climate and bullying. Faculty members are taught every year about policies, laws and ways to deal with bullying — and this month Tom Harnett, assistant attorney general for civil rights education and enforcement, will talk to the system's administrators and team leaders.

When bullying is reported, administrators involve the families of both sides to discuss the situation, ensure parents are aware of what's going on, outline consequences and emphasize that retaliation won't be tolerated. But first, bullying has to be reported.

Both Kahler and Kay Slusser, principal of Turner Elementary School and an affirmative action officer for the school system, said students are encouraged to tell an adult if they see or experience harassment. Although many adults grew up with the messages "ignore it" and "don't tattle," it's no longer unusual for schools to urge students to step forward.

"You can have every adult in the school — bus drivers, custodians, teachers, administrators — doing everything right and it's not solving the problem," said Steve Wessler, executive director of the Center for Preventing Hate in Portland. "You're not solving the problem until you are empowering kids to stand up for someone else."

He founded his center on the premise that both kids and adults have the power to reduce bullying and harassment in schools. Amanda did exactly what he advises students across the country to do: stand up for their classmates.

"Everyone should have a friend like her," he said after learning about Amanda's situation.

Still, after going through it, even Amanda isn't sure what the ultimate solution is.

"It’s so hard to come up with an answer because kids have minds of their own. People have minds of their own," she said.

But even though Amanda has taken flak from some classmates, her family is proud of what she did.

"I quite honestly think it's really awesome," said Amanda's mother, Marie Fields. "I work with people with developmental disabilities and so often you see these people who are ridiculed and teased or made fun of. I'm glad she's feeling she can stand up and single herself out and fight for what she believes in."

Amanda has gotten some support online, as well. She's talked about the incident on her social networking pages and some friends have e-mailed her to tell her she did a good thing.

In the worst period after she reported the bullying, Amanda said she tried not to let her own bullies get to her. Her mother offered to talk to school administrators if the situation got too bad and Amanda said she knew she could go back to the guidance counselor if she had to, but her reaction to bullying was, ironically, a lot like her friend's. She tried to show it didn't bother her.  

"I was raised not to be hurt by words. So I'm trying the best that I can. Standing up for it still," she said.

Ultimately, she hopes things will improve for her friend. For the school. For students all over. 

"The biggest thing I'd like to see happen, I don't know whether it's impossible or possible, is to see bullying kind of stop," she said. 

ltice@sunjournal.com

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Comments

 's picture

good job amanda bad job community

great job Amanda!!! these posts by ADULTS shows where the problem really lies. shame on you.

 's picture

kudos to taking a stand...

kudos to taking a stand... although i think schools need to have bigger repercussions for situations like these. i use to be picked on in school every single day since i was in kindergarten... from my the texture of my hair to the color of my skin to the clothes that i would be wearing-until i learned to fight back. back then the teachers just didn't give a darn... and i have a feeling that many still don't. its impossible that not one single teacher has not witnessed or heard of this happening for this long.

sometimes posting on sj people can't respect you as a person and respect your opinions. if they disagree-rather than just simply stating their opinion about the story or at the very most having a good, decent, dignified debate-they have to bash, call names, swear etc. which is unfortunate. it definitely takes the pleasure out of being able to enjoy sj's posts/stories and being able to respectfully post yourself and respectfully express your opinions freely especially about things that you are passionate about. i must add that many are too quick to judge without taking into consideration what life experiences you may have had to endure or say things in attempt to a low blow and they are wrong-like what party you are(n't) or if you do or do not have kids, etc. basically trying to make it personal in an attempt to bash. i can respect other people's opinions, thoughts, beliefs, even religions... but it seems as though not many can do the same. this is why i have a problem with sun journal and rarely go to their site anymore or check their postings because there is lack of controlling rude comments to others. using comments like 'infantile brain' to what have you... to people making comments specifically towards another person because they choose to pick a fight with someone... BUT if someone writes in CAPS-all of a sudden its improper etiquette, to not do so. i am sorry, but i have to express my frustrations with sun journal for not keeping up on this kind of stuff. i don't want to read or see another human being-being disrespectful and hateful towards another. there is good debate then there is bashing and its not right. unfortunately yes-sj has to monitor peoples comments to make it pleasurable for other people who want to enjoy sun journal. i just can't believe the majority of those who post on sj's site or fb page and what they say to their fellow neighbors. every single little thing that we do or say in life shapes and portrays us. if i was to call someone 'stupid' or 'idiot' or 'infantile brain' or 'uneducated' or swear or call names or degrade then that would only make me look that way... right? please sun journal, please keep up on this. maybe write a waiver paragraph before comments on your site that is big enough for everyone to see. i like sj don't get me wrong-but this has been getting out of hand for a long time now. people are more apt to listen to someone who can explain their view rather than making pop shots. you just may change their views on things. i found out in life that misery truly does love company... as well as that we are all the same... human beings... with different dreams, goals, and aspirations, walking different paths in life... but essentially we are all the same... with similar thoughts/feelings/emotions and will go through similar life experiences/growths/losses... and no one is better than another... be kind to your neighbor.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Kind is as kind gets?

Kind is as kind gets?

Regina  Merrick's picture

Tripp is known for this

I also have a 7th grader son who goes to school there at Tripp, he has come home almost daily this year reporting various episodes of bullying. He has made phone calls from home to the Vice Princaple who looks into it but stuff just continues for him. He is at the point that he prefers to miss school not caring what it will do his grades, just to get away from it all. He has had things happen on the bus and also at school. I am really glad to hear of another student stepping up and devastated to read she is having the same thing happen to her. I hope this will make administration open their eyes and really do something about this. All the children deserve a good education without other children bullying them.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Why don't you go peddle your

Why don't you go peddle your trash at the Flea market in Lisbon?

DEAN OUELLETTE's picture

Civil Rights Team

The Civil Rights Team at the school shared a quote during the school's announcements, and that prompted Amanda to stand up for her friend and to say something about his abuse. These teams of students in schools throughout the state provide a great service in making school communities aware and in keeping them thinking about the words and actions that can cause harm, emotional and physical, to students. Civil Rights Teams in Maine schools should also receive thanks and respect for their service in heightening awareness of bullying and prevention.

 's picture

Coder, you are right on!

Thank you for your insight. It is great to see that people are proposing solutions rather than pushing the blame on to others.

 's picture

Bullies like these should be

Bullies like these should be taken out of the school indefinitely. They are obviously not in school to learn but to victimize someone to make themselves feel good. And Sandra, your comment is not welcome here nor is it funny.

RONALD RIML's picture

Isaiah 11:1-10

Isaiah 11:1-10

Need we say more.

 's picture

Again, not productive

The focus of this story is about one person who has stood up against many bullies and "doing" the right thing. Please dont distract from the heart of the story by propagating your hate and bias.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

The parrot wants to know why

The parrot wants to know why the kid who Amand stepped up to defend is not now helping her out during her being on the receiving end of the bullying. Seems he should be covering her back. But, what do parrots know, eh?

 's picture

Blanket statements are not productive

Blanket statements and generalizations about the people that live in Turner (or any town) are not productive in the least. It is mind-numbing that a handful of people earn all the people of that town the label of elitest, entitled, and obnoxious. When one buys into the hype that all "Turner" families are like this, aren't you perpetuating prejudice and passing judgement on many innocent people?

Yes, Amanda did the right thing, but agreeing with the notion that an entire town can be judged based on the actions of a few....isnt that a bit hypocritical?

I did grow up in Turner and I went through from Turner Elementary to Leavitt. Hate is everywhere, and bullies know no boundaries, regardless of their financial, athletic, or social background. I observed plenty of people from Turner, Greene and Leeds who could be classified as bullies. Bullying knows no geographic boundaries. It is time to stop this nonsense of blanket statements and better spend our energy on finding ways to stop bullying and help those who have fallen victim to bullies.

 's picture

Thank you

I don't know Amanda or her friend but their story is heartening. Bullying has a devastating effect on the lives of our children. It's not just in one school; quite often it's not even during school. May God bless and protect both of you.

 's picture

Wonderful and Brave

You are a wonderful girl and your Mom is very proud of you, I am sure. If only there were more students like you. Thank you for what you have done.

 's picture

Funny world

You no, it is funny to read the things you say, with your supposed high moral standards. We live right next to you and you are bullying use for some reason that we don't even no about, you can talk the talk, now try walking the walk...

 's picture

Your nuts

First off, you don't even have the guts to use your real name. I was not commenting about the daughter, that is why my comment came after the mothers comment, it was addressed to the mother, I don't even no the dauther. Then the only comemt you made here that is correct is that I hollered at the bus driver, which I don't no why that is any of your business anyway. Those kids were not just riding a 4 wheeler, there was more than one and they rode them endlessly round and round going on the other side of the hawthorn tree that is there, and if I remeber right, I told the FATHER that I didn't mind them playing in my field, I just didn't want them tearing up mu grass like they were taring up the fathers grass. If not wanting my lawn torn up makes me a bad person, then I guesse I am bad. I have never called the police on anybody in my entire life, including the fathers kids that were turning around in the real road, if they want to get run over thats there problem, but I do no who did call, mayby the father should go and talk to there new found friends that lives across the driveway from me, hint, hint. Yes after the kids tore up my driveway the father made them fix it. I thought nthat was great and thanked them when they were done. The previous tenents were running an illegal day care center at there home which I didn't care about untill I saw all the kids playing in the raw sewage that was comming out of there septic system and flowing across my property and into stetson brook. I gave them plenty of time to do something about it but they refused, so I did something about it, I didn't like seeing the kids playing in the sewer water. If the father new how to plow, he wouldn't be leaving snow banks in front of my driveway makeing it difficult for my wife to get out, that is why the swivel feature is on the plow, hint hint. Maybe you should get the facts right before running your mouth....

RONALD RIML's picture

Sandra - Go Down and Compare 'Hate Notes'

At the Next NAACP meeting....

Tell them about all the 'Elephants' that were burnt in your yard by the Republican-Haters....

And 'Christians?' Funny that the Ku-Klux-Klan used the Cross of Jesus as their rallyng symbol and burned that at both their gatherings and in front of the homes of those they wished to intimimidate....before they hung them

Smokers?? We hate you because you're stupid enough to kill yourself and those around your slowly?? Nah - I just stay away from folks like you.

So it's our fault you are dumber than a box of rocks - and want to play the victim??? Yep - sounds like an ideal candidate the the Republican or Tea-Party to me....

RONALD RIML's picture

Must have touched a nerve - (bundle).

Ohhhh.... Must have touched a nerve, at least several of them. Raw ones indeed, very raw.

A so-called Christian smoker comitting suicide by tobacco poisoning and killing those around her, who bows in adoration before the Alter of the Party of Big Business, Big Money, and the Military-Industrial Complex.

And I imagine she errantly believes we are the bullies... ROTFLMFAO!!!!

Havva 'nuther cuppa psychosis....

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

He always shows his colors,

He always shows his colors, given enough time, sandra. Good post BTW.

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