HIAWATHA — Anna Cross isn’t afraid of much. The 13 year-old seventh-grade student from Franklin Middle School plays tackle football and wears a pink bracelet around her wrist emblazoned with the word “courage.”
But that wasn’t always the case.
Starting in first grade, Cross suffered physical and verbal bullying from another student. The encounters were severe, sometimes leaving her bleeding, and many of her and her parents’ early attempts to let the school know were unsuccessful.
“I told the counselor what had happened — (the other student) lied to their face and said he was just showing a move from wrestling,” she said.
Anna was one of several panelists who spoke with Cedar Rapids school district parents and teachers last night during a PTA forum on bullying at Viola Gibson Elementary School. Along with the other panelists, Cross gave the attendees advice on how they and their kids should deal with being bullied at school
For Cross, it wasn’t until she told Franklin teacher Javier Rivera about the abuse that things changed.
“She came up and told me everything. I think she felt she finally had someone to trust and tell everything other than her mom and dad,” Rivera said.
Rivera helped Cross and her family document and present the proof of the bullying, and eventually the offending student transferred to a different school. Rivera said both students have improved academically as a result.
“He’s a different kid, a different student now,” he said. “So is Anna. There’s no learning going on when you’re worried about someone saying something in class or doing something that could hurt you.”
The panel also included representatives from the Grant Wood Area Education Agency and the Parent Information Resource Center, who provided attendees with information on how to prevent, spot and stop bullying.
It’s not just a matter between two students — the entire school and community culture is involved when bullying takes place, said Christine Allen, a social worker from the education agency.
She helped demonstrate that idea with an activity called “the circle” that showed all the different roles someone can play in a bullying encounter, from henchman to passive supporter. The idea is to get people to realize how they might be involved in bullying.
“We need to recognize the messages we’re sending kids. Actions always speak louder than words,” she said.
All of the panelists encouraged parents to tell a trusted faculty member if they think their child is being bullied, and to formally report it to the school district as well.
“Report, report, report. So many parents and kids are afraid to approach the administration,” Rivera said.
Cross finished up the meeting by giving her “courage” wristband to another middle school student dealing with bullies whom she’d helped advise.“I think you need this more than I do now,” she said.