Heretolisten.org is a resource for caring adults—the front-line staff in schools and community based programs—to help teens who are struggling with difficult emotions.
Email Newsletter icon
Follow us on:
Share Youth Communication Follow Represent on Facebook Follow Represent on YouTube Follow Represent on Twitter
Follow Represent on Facebook Follow Represent on YouTube Follow Represent on Twitter
Secret of the System
Why I got a safety transfer
Paige Hodge
headshot

Names have been changed.

“Look at you, gorilla.” This insult hurt much worse than the previous ones I had been attempting to ignore. It hurt more than the cold loneliness I’d been enduring since I started at a new school. Robert had been calling me names since the third week of school, always a wide smile of satisfaction whenever he saw my hurt expression.

I can’t say I was used to being shamed and bullied, but I had definitely had my share of it. Maybe I’m too much of a standout—and not the kind that kids either admire or fear. Maybe I’m too strange to ignore. I know I became a target because I was too soft to even push back a little bit against those who taunted me. But it had never gotten this bad.

I was in 7th grade and I had just transferred to a new middle school. I was proud to have passed the entrance exam and excited to start school. For the first three weeks I settled into the routine of classes, and got used to taking dance and Japanese. I was alone most of the time, but I thought,
“I’m new, I’ll make friends soon.”

I was hopeful, but the silence around me wasn’t normal. I started keeping a journal to help ease some of my distress, so I know it was October 5 when Robert first called me a gorilla.


Journal entry for October 5: Where did that even come from? What did I even do to this boy to make him say that? Did I really look that bad? I know I’m a little big, but bad enough to be a gorilla? I can’t believe the nerve of this guy.


Rumors Fly Sky High

He was one of those kids that had everyone either captivated or terrified. Other kids went along with whatever he said and did, particularly two boys, Kevin and Jake. Robert wasn’t a big kid; he was around my height and scrawny. But he was confident and smart and never carried out his threats on school grounds. What the teachers saw was a smart boy who had lots of friends, the model kid. Although I thought he was a jerk and couldn’t really care less what he thought of my appearance, he was hard to ignore.

At the same time, my allergies were acting up and kids in my class began asking if I had swine flu (which had recently been in the news). “Hey, you OK?” a girl asked me after I had a sneezing fit in math class.

“You sure?” A boy suddenly broke into the conversation. “You know there’s that flu going around.”

“It’s not a flu, it’s my allergies,” I sighed.

Even though I told almost every kid in my class the same thing, Kevin started a rumor that I had swine flu. It seemed like everyone believed it.


Journal entry for October 20: What’s wrong with everyone today? Everybody’s sitting far away from me and whispering while looking over at me. Something is pretty off. Do they still believe that stupid rumor?


Then someone overheard me repeating something a random person said about HIV and then kids began saying I had that too. The rumor grew. Now kids thought I had multiple STDs, and eventually these diseases combined and mutated into a made-up disease called “The Paige.” People didn’t want to touch me for fear of catching it.

I felt isolated and became pessimistic about my future at that school. I was also angry. But what could I say? I didn’t want to look like the whiny kid who snitched so early in the year. I was sneezing a lot and I did look sick. So, I kept my mouth shut and tried to ignore them.

Skating on Thin Ice

Almost every day brought a new inappropriate jeer. Usually it came from Robert, but other kids got into the act too. There was the trip to an ice-skating rink; my mom had bought me a cute outfit to wear. I actually felt pretty and confident that day. Robert came up to me. “You know, your body’s good, but your face…” His expression of disgust was indescribable. He said it loud enough that I know the supervising teacher heard him but I guess he chose to ignore it.

Robert didn’t need to finish that sentence for it to feel like burning daggers in my body. It was humiliating to actually go through the effort to look nice, only to be demeaned. Whatever pride and self-esteem I had was beginning to crumble.


Journal entry for November 12: Am I really that ugly? Not that I like him or anything, but that jerk just gave me the face that I only see when smelling something horrible. Am I that bad on the eyes?


On November 23 I was in the lunchroom talking to the only two girls who were friendly to me. Suddenly, someone threw a glass bottle at me, just missing my head. I ran out of the lunchroom. I never found out who threw the bottle at me.

At first, I’d come home from school upset and my mom encouraged me to fight the bully with the biggest mouth. But I’m not a fighter, and I figured that would only make things worse. So I eventually stopped talking to her about it. Every day after school, I’d just go into my room to be alone.

As I thought about my situation one lonely night, I grew angrier. Why was I being singled out and picked on? Was it me being weird and antisocial? Did I break a silent rule everyone knew but me? Was I “wrong” in some way? That last thought was taking over my mind because of how alone I was.

I had reason to believe that none of the teachers would do anything, even if I did try to tell: Teachers had overheard Robert insult me and did nothing. The kids who teased me played their roles as good, gifted kids in front of the teachers like seasoned actors. I was scared of being seen as the liar.

Maybe the teachers thought this was all innocent teasing but it wasn’t; it hurt me deeply and made other kids steer clear of me.

Boiling Point

My frustration was mounting as the teachers did nothing to stop the bullying. It wasn’t until I fought back that my situation got any attention.

On December 21, I was in math class when Robert said something about me being ugly, which the teacher heard but ignored. This time, instead of keeping quiet, I told him to shut up. I was fed up. A few minutes later, all of us were walking out and Jake called out: “Hey, look at the little monkey!”

My rage finally boiled over and I smacked him on his head as hard as I could. He began hitting back, all of his punches landing on my head. The pain only motivated me more, making me scream and lunge at him. I’d had enough and there was nothing anybody could do to stop it.

It took two teachers to separate us and it was only then that I cried, not knowing what else to do. I was sent to the dean’s office solo and told to report what happened from my point of view. The dean told me “they were going to take care of it,” whatever that meant, and sent me back to class.

image by Nesshell Rainford

After the Christmas break, I found myself in the dean’s office again, but not to discuss the months of bullying I’d endured or my fight with Jake. The dean’s spit landed on me as he yelled at me for encouraging three girls to threaten to beat up Jake—which I hadn’t done. I ended up with a Saturday detention, my first ever, and recommended for therapy by the dean, while the bully Jake got away scot-free.

It seemed that name-calling was alright as long as no one threatened physical harm.

Can You Hear Me Now?

When I got home and told my mom, she was angry that nothing was being done about the bullying. Seeing me get punished while my bully got away with it drove her up the wall.

“How could they do this to you? How are you the one in detention? If anything, he should be!”

For her to finally understand that this wouldn’t be solved easily with a fight made me feel a lot better. It gave me hope that I could talk to her again without being given advice I wouldn’t follow.

“They need to take responsibility,” she stated. She wasn’t sure what she had to do next, but she said she was going to find out. All I could do was nod, and then hug her. For the first time since school began, I felt like I had my mom on my side.

Several weeks later a second conference was called because of an argument I’d had with Robert. This time I decided to start off the conference, explaining what led up to it. The principal cut me off saying anything before this fight was irrelevant.

“You know, I was bullied as well,” said the principal. “It’s just a phase you kids go through. No need to worry too much. Right, Ms. Hodge?”

My mom was not pleased to hear this coming out of the mouth of the person supposed to be helping me. She knew how upset I was and had noticed my behavior change from someone who was happy to an angry, introverted girl. “Are you trying to say my daughter’s making a big deal out of nothing?”

“Of course not, Ms. Hodge.” His face went red and he began sweating at being challenged. “I’m just adding a possible perspective into this situation.”

In the end, nothing was done. Again. It was bizarre. When we got home my mom said, “I don’t know what yet, but something has to happen to get this resolved.” I felt even more desperate and hopeless, despite Mom trying to help. If she couldn’t stop this, how was it supposed to be fixed? Thankfully, though, she finally found a solution.

Get Me Out

Throughout these months my mother had been looking into a way to get outside assistance. On January 26 after she came home from work, she told me she’d learned about a safety transfer, which is a special transfer out of a high school when a student’s in danger there. She said I had to e-mail Connie Cuttle, the director of safety and youth development at the Department of Education. I wrote it that night. I rested my head on the keyboard, hot tears brimming in my eyes. Writing everything that had happened brought back memories that I wanted to hide in the darkest corner of my mind. I wished I didn’t have to relive it that night, not when they were fresh enough to still cut deep. But I continued to type.

An hour later, an unfamiliar dark emotion began to settle over me as I stared at the completed letter. It hit me that all of this had been done to me and nobody other than my mom was even willing to let me tell my story, let alone acknowledge it and then punish the bullies. What could I do, but want it to end? What if the letter didn’t work? It was a terrifying moment. In a depressed haze, I typed in four words that would change the letter to a plea.

“Help me, I’m suicidal.” I hit “Send.”

The next day, my mom shook me awake, telling me that I she had gotten a call from the principal telling her I couldn’t go back to school until I got a psychiatric evaluation. I learned Ms. Cuttle had read the e-mail and contacted my school about it. I went for the evaluation where they listened to my story, finally.

Even after I sent the e-mail and had the evaluation, it didn’t appear that anyone talked to the bullies. Also, I was still attending my school, so I gritted my teeth and endured the daily taunts. As I was trying to ignore it, I felt like I was losing myself within the bullying, becoming what they all said I was.

February 4 was my last day in that school.

I remember that day clearly. I was in math class and we were guessing the mass of objects by holding them. I had just guessed the weight of the stapler, although it turned out to be wrong, and I was waiting for the next object, which happened to be scissors. Sally, my least favorite girl in the class, was sitting behind me with the scissors. Then I heard it: The sound of the scissors cutting something.

I didn’t know what it was at first and I turned around. A lock of my hair was on her desk.
Anger isn’t the right word to express the raw emotion I felt. As I ran out of the room crying and shaking, there was one thing I was certain of: I couldn’t go to that school anymore, even if I had to nail myself to my bed. I didn’t want to know how far the kids would take the torment now that this girl had cut my hair.

Thankfully, my mom was also furious. She wrote a scathing letter to the principal and to the chancellor of the Department of Education.

I never went to that school again. I was done being tormented by kids and either ignored or blamed by teachers, the principal, and the dean. That month, I stayed home and reflected on everything that had happened. Was it my fault? Is that why nobody helped me? Had I blown these incidents out of proportion?

Mom reassured me that I had done the right things and that it wasn’t my fault that nobody took action. Still, I worried that it was my strangeness making everybody dislike me.

March came quietly and Mom gave me the first good news in a while: My safety transfer had come through and I could choose another school. I could start fresh. Of course, I wasn’t healed yet, but it was a start.

On March 9, I started at a new school. That was the last day I made a journal entry, laying to rest the memories and preparing for a new beginning.


Final journal entry: Here’s a new chance to be normal and to get away from my personal hell. I embrace it and I hope I blend in.


I am forever changed from that experience four years ago. I’m more jaded instead of naïve. Still, the safety transfer was the best thing that ever happened to me. I got the chance to leave and heal away from the school. Because students often don’t know about a safety transfer, they end up staying and suffering. If you are being bullied, the safety transfer can be your path to feeling secure once and for all.

There is now a New York State law called The Dignity for All Students Act to prevent experiences like Paige’s from happening. Thanks to this new law, if you’re being bullied and you tell a school employee, then the school must initiate an investigation. It’s likely there’s even someone called a Dignity Act Coordinator at your school. Learn more at www.p12.nysed.gov/dignityact

For more resources on bullying, go to stopbullying.gov

horizontal rule
(NYC-2014-09-12)

Visit Our Online Store