It’s fitting that this year’s Student Advisory Board meeting was held at Montana Wild.
Because in a way, the board members are similar to the volunteers at Montana Wild.
Montana Wild volunteers work to rehabilitate animals, such as a great horned owl. And SAB members work to maintain graduation rates at their individual schools by cutting down bullying.
Montana School Superintendent Denise Juneau said she asked the students, “What’s going on on the ground?”
Juneau said there were 32 students, representing 28 schools with similar stories.
“Whether they are from a small school, a large school, from eastern Montana or western Montana, just being a young person in a public school, they have common experiences (with cyber-bullying),” Juneau said.
Stacia Hill, a senior at Big Sky High School in Missoula, was a victim of cyber-bullying her freshman year.
One of her friends got into a heated argument with someone outside her circle of friends. The guy who was outside her circle ended up posting a private message on Facebook, which said very hurtful things about her and her group of friends. That message was then posted publicly.
“A name called in school eventually goes away and people forget about it,” Hill said. “But when it’s posted on the Internet, it doesn’t go away. It stays around and people can email it, send links and say, ‘Hey, have you seen what this person has said about you?’ And they can revisit the page over and over.”
She said it’s sort of a permanent reminder that just lingers around forever.
Layne Johnson, who is on the other spectrum of school sizes and school drama, said as a senior at Froid, he doesn’t face as many of the problems these big schools face because everyone knows each other intimately.
But he said he expects some of these problems to emerge in college.
In fact, one of the most rampant cyber-bullying problems, Facebook “confession” pages, first appeared in the state at the University of Montana.
They have since spread into high schools.
Confession pages are public pages where students can post anonymous statements, including disparaging comments about peers, teachers and staff.
In Missoula, at Sentinel High School, there was a confession page that according to a Missoulian editorial had nearly 1,800 likes and dozens of posts.
Hill said the pages associated with the Missoula schools had vulgar statements about untruthful affairs and personal attacks.
She said students were also posting stories about illegal and illicit activities, such as getting drunk and high on school property and in some cases, sexual exploits.
“Hearing from students about what is going on in their schools and getting their ideas about what we can do to help improve the education system has proven vital to my work,” Juneau said. “I’m interested in hearing more from students not only about how adults can help create positive learning environments, but also about what they can do as students to make each other feel safe and respected.”
It’s as simple as identifying the root of the problem.
Like as Don Eisenmenger, a Montana Wild rehabilitation volunteer, said, “A small injury to a young bird of prey is usually lethal.”
The same can be said of a young adult; any size of injury can have detrimental effects on educational development.
That’s why SAB meetings try to help keep bullying down and graduation rates up.
For more information about bullying visit: opi.mt.gov/bullyfree