Celebrity guest headlines talk on bullying at Lake Shore

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published June 17, 2016

 Quinton Aaron, an actor who starred in “The Blind Side” movie in 2009, discusses bullying with a panel at Lake Shore High School June 14.

Quinton Aaron, an actor who starred in “The Blind Side” movie in 2009, discusses bullying with a panel at Lake Shore High School June 14.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — Three weeks after a middle school student reportedly tried to take his life in response to the bullying he was allegedly experiencing at Kennedy Middle School, Lake Shore Public Schools held a town hall panel discussion that included the father of the child, the superintendent, other community leaders and a celebrity guest to discuss ways to combat bullying in the schools.

The father of the eighth-grade student said that his son is on the mend and out of the intensive care unit. 

C & G Newspapers has decided not to use the names of the student or his family to protect the privacy of a minor child.

“When tragedies like this happen, you quickly find out how your community is going to react,” the father said. “The community came together and embraced not just (my son), but our family.

“Moving forward, we’re going to be working hand in hand with Lake Shore Public Schools to ensure something like this never happens again.”

Lake Shore Public Schools paid to have the Quinton Aaron Foundation facilitate the panel discussion at the high school June 14. Aaron is the actor who played Michael Oher in the 2009 movie “The Blind Side,” for which actress Sandra Bullock received an Academy Award. 

The foundation supports anti-bullying efforts to reduce the serious and life-threatening effects bullying has on children and teens in school and in the community.

“What we deal with is very serious,” said David Tyler, director of the foundation. “We have issues in this particular community that are difficult, and we’re here today with you to try to solve some of these issues. This is not a finger-pointing opportunity; this is an opportunity for us to grow (and) make sure what happened in this community never happens again.”

Aaron told the parents, students and community members filling the Lake Shore High School auditorium that he experienced bullying as a child.

“Growing up, I wasn’t always this giant you see right here,” he said. “I was always the tallest. I was skinny ... I wore glasses that were like magnifying lenses that you can, literally hold to the light and burn an ant.”

He said he tried to fly under the radar and hoped that no one would notice him, but he couldn’t hide from his mother when other children were taunting him.

“She’s the reason why I am who I am today, and how I’ve been able to get over all that that I went through,” he said. “She stayed on me and, at the time when you’re a child, you don’t really know why it’s happening or why you’re going through that, but it made sense later on.” 

He said his mother was always “in my corner,” but he said that students have to take action too.

“As the student that’s going through what you’re going through, no one’s going to know if you don’t say anything,” he said. “When I was growing up, we heard terms like, you’re a tattletale or you’re a snitch.

“Call me a tattletale, call me a snitch — I don’t care. I’m not going to let you keep doing what you’re doing to me. However many times I have to tell to make you feel it’s not worth you messing with me, that’s what I’m going to do.”

He said that’s the only way to break the cycle of bullying.

Lake Shore High School Senior Class President Evan Haslett said that it’s also up to other students to speak up for those who are being bullied.

“Do you actually go to the people that need it? Do you actually defend all the kids who people call weird?” he said to audience applause. “Do you say, ‘Hey, I don’t know you, but that’s not right?’ You have to let them know that you’re there no matter what.”

Students, he said, will have an easier time taking advice from upperclassmen than from teachers, administrators or parents, because they share the same experience.

Genny Rodriguez, the mother of a child at Kennedy Middle School, said her daughter hasn’t personally experienced bullying, but she knows it is still prevalent.

Social media, Rodriguez said, makes it much easier. 

“It’s there regardless if anyone wants to acknowledge it or not,” she said. 

Another panel speaker, Lake Shore Police Liaison Officer Cherie Mascarello, agreed.

“Facebook, Twitter, Kik ... we can’t even keep track of all of them,” she said. “You guys have a huge job to keep checking your child’s cellphones, iPads, tablets, you name it, and checking all of their social media sites.

“Bullying has been around a long time, but it’s always been face to face. It’s a lot easier to say stuff over social media when someone isn’t standing there.”

Rodriguez said the best way to fight it is to get more people involved.

“Stand up for someone, even if you don’t know them,” she said.

Helen Perry, who has nieces and nephews in the school district, agreed.

“I’ve seen kids picking on other kids,” she said. “My nephew says it’s out of control, and teachers don’t want to do anything about it.” 

Perry said she wished it hadn’t taken a tragedy like what the family is going through for Lake Shore Public Schools to take action on bullying, however.

“I know how hard they fought for this,” she said. “I think it’s something that should be done all the time.”

The mother of an eighth-grader at the school, Tiffany Kennel, said she is glad the district is addressing bullying as well. She said there needs to be more resources for children who are struggling. 

She should know. Her 13-year-old brother committed suicide when she was 10 years old, and she was the person to find him.

“I just want people to know that it is so important, no matter the outcome, good or bad, that they seek treatment,” she said. “Not only individually, but as a family together. It was bullying, it was family prominence” that led her brother to that action, she added.

“My one remaining question is, what right do you have to bully and say the things that you say to someone? That is one thing I don’t get.”

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