Two days after Lewiston middle-schooler Anie Graham took her life, hundreds packed the Green Ladle at Lewiston High School calling for community members to stand together to battle bullies and guard against suicide.
It was an emotional event, and commitments were made around the room for people to work together. There were calls for regular community forums to keep the conversation going, because one meeting held in response to tragedy was just not enough.
At the time, school officials vowed to do all they could to help.
And, they have.
They’ve hosted staff discussions, reviewed in-school procedures and guided hundreds of students toward counseling.
A little over two weeks after the Green Ladle event, the school district invited a panel of experts to lead a community forum at Lewiston High School to talk about digital citizenship, how young people are using (and misusing) social media, what parents should be on the lookout for and what the community can do to help protect children from cyber bullies.
Fewer than 40 people attended.
Last Wednesday — less than a month since Anie died — the district hosted a second forum on suicide prevention, specifically to gather community feedback to help improve response.
Superintendent Bill Webster
Lewiston Middle School Principal Jake Langlais
Lewiston Middle School Assistant Principal Pam White
Lewiston School Committee member Megan Parks, who brought her daughter and another teen.
And, Androscoggin County Budget Committee member Tina Hutchinson.
With the exception of the teens, they were all public officials.
The community failed to show.
Is a month really too long to stay engaged?
If it is, we have failed.
Bullies don’t take a break, they don’t let off when the weather is good, they don’t spare victims during summer vacation. They are ever present, which means the adults who care for children must be ever vigilant.
Here’s how bad it can get: After Anie died, a student posted a comment directed to Anie on a social media platform that her parents were monitoring that read: “Have fun in hell.”
The school investigated the source of the post, but the account was quickly closed and another opened to continue the bullying. According to Langlais, the school was never able to determine who the student was.
Knowing that someone felt a need to add to the Grahams’ misery should shake us all. Worse is knowing this kind of behavior is regularly being directed at children, and they’re struggling to deal with it all.
Last week, the Sun Journal sat down with a group of middle-schoolers to talk about bullying. The information they shared was shocking.
The cruelty is relentless, and the students aren’t really sure their parents understand what they’re going through.
To be fair, children have been mean to each other for all time and parents have never really understood what’s going on in their worlds. What’s different now, and what many parents don’t understand, is that social media has changed the intensity and frequency of the ugliness, and children who can’t handle the pressure are self-destructing.
Suicide threats are issued by emoji. Cutters post photos of their work. What may have been an insult delivered in a hallway is now repeatedly screamed around the world.
During our discussion with the middle-schoolers, Principal Jake Langlais sat in for a while and then had to excuse himself. He had gotten a call from a mother that her child was missing and she feared for his safety. She wanted contact information for parents of his friends so she could start calling them.
The child was eventually found unharmed, but Langlais has become sadly accustomed to these calls at all hours of the day — and night.
This is not a Lewiston-specific problem and Langlais is not the only principal facing this crisis.
This is a modern problem that isn’t going away, and young people need to know the adults around them can help. That was the promise that emerged at the Green Ladle, that this community would stand together against bullying.