Sunday, May 28, 2017

Way To Stay Classy Texas City High School

Show class, have pride, and display character. If you do, winning takes care of itself. -Paul "Bear" Bryant

It's been a rough couple of weeks for students and teachers here in Texas.  On Friday, May 12th, a teacher from Cypress Woods High School in the Houston area suburbs had taken her life.  I only found out because a friend of mine has a daughter that attends the school.  From what I understand, it was kept quiet at the request of the teacher's children.  The students were informed, counselors provided, and life went on.

Fast forward to this past Tuesday, the 23rd.  In the small town of  Kirbyville, Texas (population 2129), beloved High School Principal Dennis Reeves took his own life shortly after resigning his position in a meeting with Superintendent Tommy Wallis and an assistant superintendent.

From all accounts, Reeves was well liked and well respected in the small, East Texas community, and word of his death has been taken hard.  Comments on social media range from shock to dismay. Students, both former and current, tell stories of a man that cared deeply for and supported  his students.  Reeves wouldn't give up on them even when others, including themselves, had. Now there is a sense of loss in Kirbyville, and far too many unanswered questions.

But on Friday night, a breath of fresh air blew through Galveston county as Texas City High School honored one of their own.  On November 29, 2016, eighteen year old Brandy Vela of Texas City took her own life.  Her suicide was the result of months of relentless cyberbullying until Brandy could no longer take the harassment.  An investigation eventually lead to the arrests of two people, but not before leaving the close knit community wounded and hurting.

As parents and relatives, including the Vela family, filled the stand, and students filed into Stingaree Stadium and took their seats on the field, one seat was conspicuously empty. It was your run of the mill classroom chair, but unlike the others on the field, this one was draped in white with a blue ribbon.  It was placed there in memory of Brandy.  It was not an elaborate shrine, but a simple gesture by the students, faculty, and administration of Texas City High School to honor a fallen classmate.

When I posted the article from KTRK in Houston to my Facebook page,  I didn't realize how many responses I would get.  Throughout the day, the post received numerous Likes and other reactions.  Many congratulated the school for allowing this tribute, while far too many others lamented the fact that when they lost their child to suicide, their schools refused to even mention their child at graduation, allow them a memorial page in the year book, and others talked about how their child's memory was all but wiped from existence by the school as though they were an enemy of Stalin.

Throughout the state and country, suicide is still a dirty little secret that many are hesitant to talk about despite the fact that suicide has surpassed homicide as the second leading cause of death among teens.  The stigma surrounding mental illness, a contributing factor in 90% of suicides, still continues to keep people from coming forward and getting the help that they need.  The irony is not lost on the fact that schools will spend millions of dollars and countless hours to make sure students can pass a test spend almost no money and time to make sure the same students are alive to take it.

As the school year begins to wind down, as teachers enter grades for the last time, as students clean out lockers and return book, as seniors wait patiently for their name to be called for that long awaited walk across the stage, let us not forget those that won't be walking across, those that won't be turning to wave at their parents, do back flips, fist pump, smuggle beach balls and silly string under their robes, or throw their caps high in the air when they are bestowed with the title of graduate.  Way to stay classy Texas City High School.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Someone Has To Be A Bad Example

Last week, a  female student (let's call her Tootie) at College Park High School in The Woodlands, Texas was arrested for possessing and allegedly threatening to disseminate the photos another girl (we shall call her Eloise), also a student at College Park.  As a result, Tootie could have been charged with a felony for possessing child pornography because Eloise is 17 and a minor.  However,"because of the growing trend of young people in Texas taking and sharing nude photos – sometimes without the consent of the person depicted in the photo – state lawmakers in 2011 created a misdemeanor charge called 'electronic transmission of certain visual material depicting minor,' or 'sexting,'"  of Tootie faces the Class B misdemeanor charge of electronic transmission of certain visual material depicting minor. The misdemeanor charge carries the possibility of up to six months in jail and a possible $2,000 fine if convicted.  I have no doubt that there was the usual victim shaming saying that Eloise either took, or allowed others to take the pictures, so she shouldn't be complaining abut some one sending them out. Then there are others that want to form a posse and distribute some good ol' fashioned frontier justice at the end of a rope.  Some sit back and pretend not to care, and others that tote the company line saying, "we need to let the investigation play out."  As for me, I want the investigators to be aggressive, but objective.  I want no stone left unturned, and no loop hole left open, no witness left silent.  In the end, if the allegations prove to be true, then I would like to see the case brought to court, prosecuted, and if convicted, Tootie  should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.  I'm talking about throwing the book at her, locking her up and throwing away the key, and letting her sit in jail for the entirety of her sentence.

Now there are those out there that may think I am too strict, harsh, or mean. That a harsh consequence would ruin the Tootie's life. That she just made a mistake That she didn't know what she was doing. It was just the one time. She's just a kid. It'll never happen again, cross her heart and hope to die and pinkie swear.  Okay, so what?  Many in society, especially those of us that have lost a loved one to bullying and harassment are sick and  tired of the same old excuses.  We are tired of seeing children buried and families torn apart while the bully gets a slap on the wrist, or less.  We are tired of seeing our child blamed for what happened to them.  We are tired of watching a tormentor walk free while we have only memories left to cling to.  We are tired of school administrators, police, and prosecutors not doing the job that our tax dollars pay them to do.  We are tired of seeing those same people take the path of least resistance rather than putting themselves on the line for the one's that can no longer speak for themselves.  Many will tell me they are sorry about my son, and that what happened to him should not happen to anyone, that some one should have to pay, but in the same breath tell me that Tootie should not have to be the one to suffer.

There are those that may ask "Why Tootie? Why make an example out of her?"  To that I reply, "Why not.  Some one has to be the example, so it might as well be Tootie." I am not talking about putting her head on a pike, or clapping her in the stocks, or even a public flogging.  I just want people to know that this type of behavior is harmful to people, and if you choose to partake, then there are consequences involved.  "But this is her first offense, " or perhaps it is just the first time that she was caught.  "But why Tootie? She has such a bright future in front of her.' So did Peyton, and Issac and David and so many others before people like Tootie and her ilk took it upon themselves to ruin their lives. Was Tootie sure that when she began her torment she checked to make sure that Eloise wasn't dealing with a mental health issue.  Because if she did, she might also realize that 90% of people that complete suicide are dealing with an underlying mental health issue, and that on average about 1 in 5 teens deal with some sort of mental health issue.  I am sure that those who hope for a lighter sentence feel that, "If Tootie gets probation, then she promises never ever to do it again,"  But I think that after six months behind bars, and two grand lighter in the wallet, Tootie would really think twice about threatening to send out some one's naked picture in a group text.

I am sure there are the bleeding hearts out there that don't want to see poor Tootie do any time in lock up or have to pay a penny out of pocket.  After all, she just made one little mistake, and she shouldn't have to pay for it with her future.  I guess Tootie should have thought about that before she held Eloise hostage with the threat to release the picture.  Eventually Tootie did send the picture to two male students. I am sure the bleeding hearts are thinking, "It's just one little picture, and she only sent it to two boys."  Just take a step back.  Did those two boys share it with any one?  Did they show the picture to others, or did they share the picture with others?  I don't care if they said they didn't, teens lie to save themselves all the time.  How do they know that right now, some 45 year old troll living in his mother's basement in New Jersey isn't enjoying that picture?  What if it was your daughter, or sister, or even you that the troll is thinking about?  Does that change your opinion? I guarantee that if it was my daughter's picture, I would be pushing for the felony charge, and not a misdemeanor, and the safest place for Tootie would be jail.

Eloisie, if you took the picture, or allowed it to be taken, don't think you are off the hook either.  If you did indeed take the picture, or allowed the picture to be taken, then you, my dear, are a dumbass. Seriously, what the hell were you thinking?  Did you take it for the special boy in your life?  Big mistake.  Do not trust a teenage boy, or any male of the human species. They will lie to you to get what they want, promise that it will be a special secret for just the two of you, and then brag to anyone they can find about what they did, and there is a good chance they will embellish what happened to look that much better in the eyes of their friends. Then they will send it to every one of his slimy little friends that asks for it to God only knows what as they stare at it.   Or maybe, you and your friends were playing around and thought it would be funny.  The picture was taken with the promise that it would be deleted, but oops, some one forgot to delete it, and the next thing you know, the picture is making its way around the world. You have to remember dear Eloise that in today's digital age, nothing is every really gone, and the delete button may not save you.

Tootie will appear in court for arraignment on May 31, 2017.  Let us hope that the judge, the District Attorney and all those involved decide that the time has come to hold Tootie accountable.  After all, someone has to be a bad example.

Author's Note- Last week people around the world were stunned and horrified by the story of eight year old Gabriel Taye of Cincinnati.  Gabriel took his life two days after another student, slammed him into a wall and knocked him unconscious then proceeded to dance around as though he scored the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl.  The school district never bothered to tell his mother the truth until AFTER the police investigated.  The time to hold the bullies, and if necessary, their parents, and in this case, the school accountable has come.  For too long, too many have turned a blind eye to this, and the time of reckoning has come.  Sorry Tootie.  

Monday, May 8, 2017

Reasons Why I Watched 13 Reasons Why

I hope you're ready, because I'm about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. - Hannah Baker, 13 Reasons Why

I watch Netflix, a lot.  I first began shortly after I married Lisa so we could watch Friday Night Lights without me having to ask who each character was.  Over time, I used to watch the occasional movie, and then I began to binge whole seasons of Breaking Bad, and I was hooked.  I was a Netflix junkie when I discovered Orange Is The New Black.  Then came Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Even now I get excited thinking about The Defenders.  Yep, I'm hooked.

My wife will tell you that I waste a lot of time investing in characters like Walter White, Jessie Pinkman, and Saul Goodman; however, I feel it is time well spent.  

When looking for a new series to invest, or waste, my time in, I came across the trailer for a new Netflix series called 13 Reasons Why.  When I realized that the series was about a young girl that takes her life it piqued my interest.  When I heard it proclaim that Selena Gomez was the executive producer, I took pause.  My only true recollection of her work was one of the typical Disney shows where the adults are all idiots, the kids are all smartasses, and the script seems to be written by a room full of chimps banging away on keyboards when they take a break from throwing their feces at each other.  When I thought about watching 13 Reasons Why, all I could picture was the After School Specials from the 70's.  I was even prepared for Scott Baio and Kristy McNichol to play the concerned parents, and Kirk Cameron to play the hip, but understanding, teacher.  However, after the series dropped and positive reviews started to come in, especially from my students, I decided spend some time watching at least the first few episodes.  

The first episode piqued my interest.  It take place at the fictional Liberty High School, and was filled with the stereotypes that one would expect to find in a show about high school. You have the arrogant jocks, dumb jocks, and quiet sensitive jocks.  You have the nerdy kid who likes science fiction and rides his bike everywhere.  You have the high achieving Asian student.  You have the angry, heavily tattooed student who administers sage advice.  You have the rebellious, yet sensitive, bad boy with a cop for a father.  You have the openly gay intellectual.  You have the creepy stalker with the camera. You have the Yoda-esque hoodlum from the wrong side of the tracks. You have the weaselly  principal more concerned with the school's reputation.  You have the clueless, coddling parents, teachers, and counselors.  And of course you have the pretty girl from the good family whose suicide is the focal point of the series.  

It took several episodes for the show to really get going, but once it did, I was in for the long run and finished the series.  While I will never say 13 Reasons Why is a great show, it does carry a powerful message.  Yes, there are some substantial issues with the show, but you can read about them here, here, and here.  I am not here to talk about the problems, but to applaud the show itself.  For all of the faults within the show itself, the one thing that stands out to me is that it had the balls, gumption, wherewithal, and nerve to tackle an issue that far too many in our society still consider a taboo subject.  

The series revolves around Clay Jensen, the aforementioned bike riding nerd who receives 13 audio cassettes recorded by the now deceased Hannah Cook.  Each of the tapes is dedicated to one of the students that have led Hannah to take her life.  There is the typical teen angst, but also sexual harassment, bullying, and cyber bullying, homosexuality, drug and alcohol abuse, and even rape.  The kids are kids, they are nice to each other when they need something, they treat each other like sh*t when they don't, and are more interested in saving their own asses when ever the situation calls for it.  

Clay relives the pivotal moments of Hannah's last few months through her narration. He discovers just how horribly his classmates treat each other, but especially Hannah.  How an innocent date with a boy turns Hannah into a slut. How the law of unintended consequences applies to an act of revenge towards another student and brings Hannah unwanted attention and harassment.  How stress at home took it's toll on Hannah.  How rejection and betrayal sent Hannah even further down the rabbit hole. How those that are there to protect failed Hannah, and how one person, enabled by status and money, could commit an act so heinous that became the breaking point for Hannah.  

Clay's anger toward the others on the tapes grows and festers as he wants justice brought for Hannah, but the others try and try to cover up, get their stories straight, and hide the truth. Even the depiction of Hannah slitting her wrists is deemed "too graphic" by some.  I'm sorry, but at what point did running a razor down your wrists become and object d'art?  If she had used a shot gun, or hung herself, it would have been just as bad.  

While it is true that there were several swings and misses, mainly the absence of any issues of mention of mental health issues that factor into 90% of all suicides. 13 Reasons Why touches on several key factors such as the overwhelming stress kids feel today in school. How the desire to fit in and belong can outweigh every other aspect of a child's life.  How repeated cruelty and rejection can push a person over the edge.  How bottled up feelings can cause so much pain that the person feels no other recourse but to take the final step.  Even how schools slathering the walls with suicide prevention posters AFTER a suicide is about as worthless as travel brochures in a coffin.  Some schools have even gone as far as to forbid students from talking about 13 Reasons Why at school.  

Despite all the negatives, there are some positives that come along with the series.  First and foremost, it has people talking, especially its intended audience, teens.  As I go through social media, I see entry after entry regarding 13 Reasons Why, and see real conversations coming from it.  Kids are openly and honestly discussing their problems and issues openly. Michigan's Oxford High School is setting up their 13 Reasons Why Not program in order to open up and shed a light on suicide and mental health issues.  All of these are good and needed.  

If you have read any of my blogs, you know that I advocate for education and awareness for suicide awareness and prevention.  Sadly, it was Netflix, and not schools or parents that stepped up and took the lead.  For good or bad, 13 Reasons Why was needed as suicide moved up to the  #2 cause of death for 13-24 year olds in our country.  So the decision is yours dear reader.  You can choose to watch 13 Reasons Why and be offended or enlightened, but the decision will be yours.  But please, form an opinion and put that opinion out there for others to see.  Perhaps by voicing your opinion, some one might feel compelled to talk about their problems, and get the help they need.  These are the reasons why I watched 13 Reasons Why.