Standing up, speaking out
Students were asked to stand, speak and stop bullies at an assembly Wednesday morning which featured mixed martial art fighters Michael McBride and John Halverson as speakers.
Webster City High School Principal John Elkin opened the presentation which outlined his “Fight Without Fists” program which aims to prevent bullying and harassment in schools. The first question he posted to students asked them what kind of environment they wanted to have at school.
“The kind of school you want is the kind of school you’re going to have,” Elkin said.
Elkin spoke about physical, mental and verbal harassment to students, who filled Prem Sahai auditorium for the presentation. He said that bullying can destroy a person’s life, happiness and self-worth. He asked students to reflect on their actions and how they might affect another student, as Elkin said that bullying is a problem that begins and ends with students between bullies and victims.
Students were also presented with the consequences that bullying can bring. Elkin discussed how Alexander Bettis Jr., a student at Southeast Polk High School, committed suicide after being bullied. Elkin asked students what they would do with themselves if they brought someone to suicide through harassment.
“It could be someone here,” Elkin said. “If you’re one of those kids that messes with somebody’s happiness and they take their own life, how could you live with yourself the rest of your life?”
Elkin said he started the “Fight Without Fists” program not only due his position as a principal, but also as a father. He told students about Jamie, his wife of 10 years, and how her rare thyroid illness made it difficult for them to become parents. Still, the couple was able to have two children. Elkin said several years of raising children has given him a different perspective of bullying and harassment.
“I worry about someone taking their happiness away from them. Now, I see why parents get really mad about their kids being harassed,” Elkin said. “All of you are somebody’s bundle of joy, you are.”
Elkin handed the presentation off to McBride, a Webster City local, who shared his thoughts on bullying. He learned two years ago that his young daughter was already encountering bullying, and in reflection, thought about how he encountered bullying in High School as a freshman.
“It’s your job as high schoolers, as you’re trying to find yourselves, you’re going to realize that every one of you is different and every one of you has something that you could pick on each other for. But, those same things are what make you unique and what will make you awesome in whatever you choose to do in life.”
Halverson was next to speak at the event. He recounted being bullied in the classroom and not knowing how to deal with it. He said he got into some fights once he started standing up for himself, but said fighting bullies without physical violence is the best road to take. At school, he was disciplined along with his bullies he fought by studying English for about an hour after school each day with them. Through that semester, he reconciled with the students he fought, and said they eventually became some of his closest friends.
Halverson also discussed his young son, who has a form of alopecia that has left him completely hairless. He recounted stories of overhearing people who think he has cancer, or others who think he and his wife chose to have his hair removed. Even through comments like that, Halverson said his son chooses not to wear a wig and is comfortable with who he is.
Elkin joined Halverson and McBride on stage after the event, thanking both for taking part in what Elkin hopes will be the first of many such presentations with athletes and other speakers.
“These are guys who could physically hurt someone if they wanted to, but they choose not to. Instead, they show that people other than just teachers or a kid’s parents care about how bullying affects people,” Elkin said.
The website for “Fight Without Fists” is still under construction, and can be found at fightwithoutfists.com. The program can also be found on Twitter @FightWOFists.