By Liz Schneider
In the wake of several tragedies involving teen bullying and harassment, the topics have become the subject of much public attention. For La Jolla High School senior Megan Micheletti, however, the issues are more personal. “I saw someone I loved being bullied, and I knew I had to do something to make it stop,” she said. “I couldn’t just stand by and watch and let it happen.”
So at the beginning of last school year, Micheletti founded the VACHI (Voices against Cruelty, Hatred and Intolerance) Club at LJHS. The club, which organized several anti-bullying events during the school year, spent a recent afternoon hosting an outreach event for elementary school students.
The hour-long presentation at the Riford Library, featured strategies for teaching children about what bullying is and how to deal with it. The workshop centered around a single concept, which was printed on a huge sign: “If it’s not kind, don’t say it. Think before you speak.”
While the message is obvious, Micheletti says it is more of an issue for young students than many people realize. “Seventy-four percent of 8- to 11-year-olds say that teasing is happening at their school,” she said. “That’s a significant number. I thought, why not target the youth and try to get the message out early.”
Micheletti said addressing the issue at this age is important because middle school is the most common time for children to have experiences with bullying. By learning about its many forms – from physical abuse to social exclusion to cyber-bullying – students can enter middle school aware of the issues and ready to address them.
“If you stop it young, they’re hopefully not going to have these problems when they’re older,” said Aubrey Sloan, co-founder of the club.
Through a series of books and role-playing activities, the VACHI presenters taught students about why bullies are so mean (because they are sad inside) and how to respond to them (by talking to an adult and by telling the bully how you feel). Audience members then took turns describing their experiences with bullying, and how they would change their behavior in retrospect.
After the event, students were given a certificate of completion to document how much they had learned. Although it was the club’s first outreach event, members hope to spread their message to all students through partnerships with the area’s elementary and middle schools.
VACHI is considering starting a chapter of the club at Muirlands.
“Our goal is to stop hatred at our school,” said Sloan. “One of the big things I’ve been working on recently is stopping the use of the words ‘gay’ and ‘retarded’.”
These goals are advanced through a variety of club-sponsored events aimed to make the campus a more tolerant, open place. One such event was Mix It Up Day that encouraged students to cross social boundaries by sitting with another group at lunch or interacting with people one normally wouldn’t. The club also began a No Name Calling Week, in which more than 100 students pledged to stop calling their peers cruel names.
And while these activities are important, Micheletti said the club serves another function that is subtler, but equally important. The club aims to reach out to victims of bullying and make sure they know they’re not alone – a crucial and potentially even life-saving message.