I cannot help but feel deep sadness from the passing and suicide of Chester Bennington. A gifted musician and artist, I found that he was severely bullied in school when he was young. There are other stories like his. I also read recently that the latest star of the new Spider Man, Tom Holland was also bullied in school. I have read countless stories of gifted artists telling stories of being bullied in school. They often say that they were bullied for being so “different.” There is a pattern here. A child who is a little different than the mainstream, goes to school, is bullied for being so different. They eventually get lost in their art, but still hold on to the scars from being bullied and teased. Even though they grow up and become successful, those memories of being bullied and being made to feel inadequate do not go away. In the quietness of their minds, the ghosts of those same bullies stand around them telling them how inadequate they are. How do I know? Because I cannot seem to forget the times when classmates would call me ugly. Even though I am 43 years old, I cannot forget that, and as a result I have struggled with my own issues of finding myself beautiful (hopefully you will allow me to be a little transparent here?).
I feel that schools spend so much time on the academics, they never take time to notice the wounded student whose wounds may one day hinder them from hitting their full potential. They also spend very little time creating an environment where all students, no matter how “different” they are, can thrive. Chester Bennington, somehow had a deep pain that he could not escape. He tried drugs, fame, fortune, marriage, and in the end he could not escape the pain. I am taking a guess here, because I have actually seen students grow up and not be able to “forget” the pain of being bullied.” His sad time in school may have played a part in how he thought about life…about himself.
There are times where people may question why we spend so much time on character, self-esteem, vision building, self-reliance, self-motivation, independence, etc. The staff literally spend most of their time talking to students, and advocating for them to be themselves. We also spend a lot of time creating a school environment where the whole community graciously accepts ALL members of the community. To many this just does not seem important enough. No, we do not have a set STEM program (but if any student expresses a sincere interest in STEM, we have the staff available to help them reach that goal), but we feel strongly that when you deal with the inner being of a person first, then they will strive to do well in those courses that help them reach their passion and goal in life.
The Judicial Committee (JC) is a great way for students to talk with members of the community when they feel hurt or that their pursuit of Life, Liberty and The Pursuit of Happiness is somehow being jeopardized. I once had a parent angrily message me because her daughter missed her math session to do JC. She failed to understand that kids being able to talk through their hurts and offenses, will actually clear their minds to do any subject necessary to reach their ultimate career goals.
As adults, we get so excited when kids excel academically, but I have seen these same students, when I served as a principal in traditional schools, grow up to be miserable adults! Now I think of Chester. Somehow the pain became too much and he never learned the skills necessary to survive the hurts and pains of life. What if school were more focused on teaching students those skills, instead of only focusing on how to write an essay or to solve a Chemistry formula? At the end of the day, I firmly believe that by learning the skills necessary to overcome hurt, obstacles, live in community, faith and much more inner character traits, will give them the power to do well in every single other area of life.
Dr. Anika T. Prather (Ms. Anika), Founder