South Hadley, Massachusetts has made international news in just a few months after a family from Ireland moved to the town. One of the daughters of that family was named Phoebe Prince. Unfortunately after apparent bullying by six to nine of her peers at South Hadley High School she decided to take her own life by hanging herself in the house they resided in. The media became extremely interested in the case and local residents were in an uproar.
Social media sites have been eating up this story and all the developments daily. Parents screamed and argued in outrage at school committee meetings and students started to stand up and express their feelings and own experiences.
So what happened exactly? Apparently after a dating/relationship situation a group of high school students started to express their anger and frustration towards Phoebe. Students allegedly harassed her daily, calling her awful names, throwing things at her as she walked home after school, and bullying her online.
Since January, a handful of groups have appeared on facebook dealing with the case, the students involved, the media, and the town itself. Bullying continued to occur, but this time it was turned on others. It seemed that people weren't thinking about what they were saying or how their actions would be portrayed. In one group on facebook, which is in support of the school's principal, some people still managed to make comments, this time towards the principal in a very aggressive manner. Another group was a memorial page for Phoebe and people from all around joined the group, but negative comments still arose, but they were aimed at the students who were being blamed for the suicide.
South Hadley is the town that I call home and I also attended South Hadley High School. During my four years in the high school I made sure to make myself involved. I joined Peer Leaders, NHS, Tiger Times (the studio/morning news show group), and a couple other clubs during my time there. I worked closely with the administration during the couple of hours a week that I worked in the main office, assisting the principal, assistant principles, or secretaries. During my time working in the office I heard it all, and I was surrounded by the issues between students and faculty, parents anger, and everything in between. SHHS, unbeknown to most people does use a “punishment system” for lack of better phrasing. If students got into fights with one another, teachers would run out of classrooms and stop the fight and bring them right down to the main office where they would get talked to, have their parents called in most cases, and were given a disciplinary action. Even if something small occurred at the school, some sort of mediation or discussion would be made so that both parties understood their actions and were given solutions.
From personal experience, Principal Smith truly cares for his students. Every morning when I would leave the studio from airing the morning show over the school's television system, he would still be in the hall with other administrators from when they had greeted all the students before the bell for homeroom rang. He would always say hello and ask how I and my friends were doing. It made me feel good that he not only cared enough to know my name or ask me how I was doing but that I could tell he actually and truly wanted to know and cared. He shouldn't be blamed for any part of the case. That wouldn't make sense. Isn't it the job of parents to teach their children morals, respect, and how to behave? School administrators and teachers are there to assist students with their education, not to make them perfect human beings. There is only so much that school officials can do, and somewhere someone else, be it the family members or the school committee/board needs to step in.
Today, as a student attending Hofstra University, majoring in broadcast journalism, this case intrigues me, sometimes more than others. I look at the issue from both the perspective as a student and town resident along with having a journalist's mentality.
When I go onto facebook and see fellow SHHS students, current and past, I see them blaming or yelling at the media. At times I can't help but laugh and sometimes take offense to their comments. I wouldn't blame the media for being interested. Students even made groups threatening the media or saying that journalists are scum and so forth. What they don't seem to comprehend is that the job of a journalist is to discover what is occurring and what the truth is. Journalists are curious people, and the public expects them to give them knowledge that they don't know. Sure South Hadley residents are probably annoyed with seeing camera crews and reporters everyday, I can understand that. Yet people around the world who don't live there, still have the desire to hear what is going on and want to know how everything ends. If there is a need or desire for information, then a journalist and the media will no doubt arrive and cover that story.
It is intriguing to see students complain about reporters trying to add them as friends on the site as well. If that was me, and someone from Good Morning America or the like was friend requesting me I would be all over that! Of course for me that would be networking, but still, just imagine the possibilities! You get to talk to someone from a major show or market and get to tell them exactly how you feel.
In the end however, it isn't about the media apparently bombarding a small town in Western Massachusetts, and it isn't about how awful kids can be. In the end, society needs to realize that all over the world bullying occurs. As BAM put it on his blog (brian.brispace.net), South Hadley is a good town, and if this incident happened a couple towns over from it, the situation could have been a lot worse. In Springfield for example, gangs are present and it has been seen that a small percentage of people are willing to use weapons to solve their problems. After interning at a local TV station over the summer I saw just how violent things can be in a small city setting compared to where I live. Bullying can happen in the smallest town in Utah, it can happen in California, Alaska, or anywhere imaginable, and it has happened! Bullying unfortunately happens everyday.
Unfortunately Phoebe Prince's case isn't completely unique. Where there are communities of students/kids, relationships will form and fall apart everyday. There will unfortunately be arguments, fights, and problems. It is an unfortunate reality of life and growing up. South Hadley is just the latest and most intriguing case. But, perhaps it will help people by realizing that these issues do occur and that parents need to listen to their kids more and talk to them. Also, schools need to come up with better policies on bullying issues.
Will change happen over night in this small town? No, of course not. But, the attention placed on it by the media is going to push it to try harder to work together, which I think is a great thing in the long run. We can't all run around trying to point fingers and placing blame on everyone, but instead we need to work together to find a solution that works.
Nothing can change what occurred in South Hadley, and nothing can take back the actions that everyone involved did or did not participate in. From here we have to move forward.
South Hadley is not a bad place to live. Most days it is a quiet and rather boring town. Sure some people will always misbehave now and then, but that's just a very small minority. One issue can't cause fear in residents or those who considered visiting or moving there. The media is also not the bad guy in the situation either, they are just doing their job and trying to make a point for society that change needs to be made, starting with the home.
For now the case is in the hands of the government, not for you or I to decide. However, we need to be the ones to decide to have an open mind. With open minds change can occur.