Somewhere in Marshalltown there is a boy who is dreading the first day of school. It's not that he doesn't like learning. If going to school was just about the curriculum, he might get better grades. While excelling at many things in the classroom, he's terrified to return.
Maybe it's because he knows he won't get the new shoes many of his classmates will be sporting the first day. Perhaps he's ashamed of some physical attribute his peers have distinguished as unusual. Or maybe it's his heritage, a birth defect, his development, or the neighborhood in which he lives.
For some reason, he just doesn't fit in. He knows this because that's what the kids at school told him last year. Despite encouragement from his parents and teachers, he's lost his enthusiasm about learning. For him, the first day of school brings to life a fear that no child should endure.
Some kids will take this opportunity, a fresh beginning, to start an entire new year in which they can single him out, and torture him.
This dramatization may seem extreme, but is it? Consider the following statistics from a 2010 Marshalltown Community School District survey on bullying and violence:
21.9 percent of students reported being left out of things on purpose, excluded from their group of friends or completely ignored.
14.3 percent of students reported being involved in a physical fight on school property.
9.8 percent of students in grades 6, 8 and 11 did not go to school on one or more days because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to school.
6.7 percent of students said they had been threatened with a weapon on school property.
While many of us are busying ourselves with final preparations for the first day of school, there might be one more thing to cross off your list - a common sense conversation with your kids.
Most of us can remember the kids that were picked on in school. Some of us were those kids. A glance back at our own experiences shows a variety of situations we regret, either for our participation or our choice not to stop it.
Let's share our experiences with our children and stop pretending that bullying doesn't happen in our schools. Let's consider that our children might be involved.
The majority of kids want to make their parents proud. Now would be a good time to remind them of a few simple ways they can do that when the new school year begins.
This community is also counting on students to make us proud. We're looking for some real changes in our school system this year. While administrators and school board members do their best to initiate this change, much lies on the shoulders of the students.
We challenge returning students to stop bullying in our schools. Look for the kids having a hard time and invite them to be a part of your school day - with a simple hello, a smile or seat at your lunch table. It doesn't take much effort to make a little bit of difference in someone's life. Let's offer a little more kindness and understanding this week and start the school year off on the right foot.