Schools looking at different strategies to combat bullying

(File Photo: Wikipedia / CC BY 3.0)

PORTAGE, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Next week, there will be backpacks to pack, buses to catch and homework to do.

The start of a new school year can be a stressful time for kids and parents.

It also renews anxiety over the troubling issue of bullying.

This year, school districts across the state will start the new year with a different approach to combat bullying.

Thursday night, we hear from a Portage teenager about the serious impact bullying can have on kids.

Whispers in class, bumps in the hallway, that's how it started.

"I don't really know why," said Kait Idzowski.

She was in 7th grade at the time.

Social media was the new thing, and school yard bullies became even more difficult to escape.

"It's like you don't really know where is a safe place," she said.

In school and online, the verbal abuse escalated throughout high school.

"You can't turn off what they are saying when you come home. Like you can't get on your phone because it's there," she said.

A text message she got sophomore year still makes her stomach ache.

"They told me that I should be buried alive and burn in hell. Over what?" she said.

It's a question she never got an answer to.

"How do you go home to your parents and tell them that?" she said.

She suffered in silence, ashamed at the messages she was getting and the names she was being called.,

"I thank God that there wasn't social media when i went to school," said Lakeview Superintendent Blake Prewitt.

Prewitt says teaching kids how to use social media in a positive way is an ongoing challenge.

"They can write things down, send it out to anyone without thinking. They get internet courage, something they would never say to someone in person," he said.

Talking face to face--that's part of the new strategy schools will use to try to stop bullying.

Conflict mediation allows victims to confront bullies to teach kids how to manage their emotions and problem solve—together.

"Words hurt, and we have to realize that those words can lead to far more things," Prewitt said.

The kinds of things most parents can't even imagine.

"Yeah, I... I hurt myself physically, and I tried to end my life more than once," Kait said.

Sadly, she is not alone.

"The emotional pain is hard to deal with when you're a kid," said Prewitt.

It's still difficult for Kait, who graduated from Portage Northern High School in 2016.

"I will probably live with the things that they said for the rest of my life. I'll probably have to deny them to myself for the rest of my life, and that's a lot harder than anything they ever said to me," she said.

For students about to head back to school, she tells them to speak out against bullies--to tell teachers or parents, and to also stick up for people being bullied.

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