THORNDIKE, Maine — Last spring, the Mount View school community was rocked when a 13-year-old girl from Troy committed suicide after family members said she had been teased and bullied at school.
Although a police investigation ultimately found that Kitty McGuire’s death was not connected to bullying, the district is taking a proactive approach to the issue. On Monday, all middle- and high-school students at the school heard a presentation on bullying from California-based organization Teen Truth.
“We wanted to make it clear that bullying is an issue that can only be addressed as a community. It’s not a school issue, it’s not a parent issue — it’s an entire community issue,” Heather Perry, the superintendent of Regional School Unit 3, said Monday afternoon. “Today’s presentation is part of a larger, grander scheme we’re trying to work on.”
According to some students who watched a short film on teen bullying — with a focus on school shootings — and heard a personal story from presenter Erahm Christopher, the assembly was effective. Christopher told them about growing up in California and feeling threatened by football players from another school. He was placing a shotgun and a box of shells in his gym bag to bring to school the next day when his older brother saw him and told their parents, who reported the bullies to police.
“What my brother did for me truly changed my life,” Christopher told the Mount View students.
He said that in April 1999, he was shocked to see news reports about the Columbine school shootings, in which two teenage boys used guns and bombs to murder 12 students and one teacher and injured 27 other people. Christopher told the Mount View students that on TV he saw countless experts do post-mortem evaluations of Eric Harris’ and Dylan Klebold’s psychology and possible reasons for committing the massacre. But he didn’t see many people asking teens what they really thought about bullying and other problems, and he wanted to change that.
“Wherever I go, what I see is that students are constantly dividing themselves by the differences they see,” he said. “The truth of the matter is, we are all the same … we’ve all been the bullies, too.”
After the presentations he asked the energized students what they would do to make a difference. One teen boy said he would be nice.
“Too vague,” Christopher said, and encouraged him to give five compliments every day.
“Do you want to be a person who will stand up?” he asked the crowd of students. “If you’re not being the difference, what are you doing?”
Afterward, two middle school girls said that they found the presentation riveting.
“It was really powerful and scary to think about,” 12-year-old Brooke of Unity said.
Mackensie, also 12, of Troy said she had been one of Kitty McGuire’s best friends.
“I don’t think we should do as much excluding. I would like to open up to more people,” she said. “And help people stop being so rude.”
After the presentation was over, a few students waited to talk to the motivational speaker. Jenna Johnson, 16, of Thorndike said that she found the presentation inspiring.
“Even though some people feel ashamed and they don’t speak out about their problems, keeping it secret can turn it into a bigger problem,” she said.
For information about Teen Truth, visit teentruth.net.