As the school year begins the South Hadley High School is trying to come to terms with, and move on from, their international exposure as the "bully school". The school where Phoebe Prince was tormented by a band of bullies is reminded, for good and bad, of the case every day.
It is hoped that this reminder will serve as part of the 15-year-old Irish student's legacy.
Just weeks into the new school year, the students are already realizing that their school will never quite be the same again. Apart for the now international focus to crack down on bullying in schools, and via the Internet and cell phones, a banner now hangs across the front door of the high school. It reads "RESPECT".
For the last nine months South Hadley High has been at the center of Phoebe Prince's suicide case with many questioning whether the school might have been able to prevent the young girl from going home from school and hanging herself with a scarf. However, for the student's of South Hadley High this is not just a discussion on the need for a change in guidelines surrounding bullying.
Their school has become the center of a hate campaign. Following Phoebe's suicide hate pages dedicated to some of the accused students sprung up on Facebook.
A history teacher at South Hadley High, Stephanie Veins, told People "It's been frustrating to see so many students in pain….I would tell my students, 'This event does not define you.' The students would be upset, 'Why do they hate us?' [I'd say] 'They don't hate you. They are afraid that they are you."
Internationally, and at home in South Hadley, Phoebe Prince's case, and other tragic young suicides, have heightened sensitivity and awareness towards bullying. Daniel Smith, the principal at South Hadley told People that he believes South Hadley, the "bully school", is now being changed for the better.
He said "Eight graders now undergo depression screening before entering their freshman year. South Hadley set up an anti-bullying committee to create a new policy, which mandates 'the principal must initiate an investigation of bullying within one school day'."
However some of the parents from the new committee believe that nothing has really changed in South Hadley High. Susan Smith, whose son was friends with Phoebe told People that her son was bullied about his weight in the first week back at school. In fact the school went into "code black" when a shouting match broke out between two students in the halls during the first week.
It is not just the students who are affected by the atmosphere created at South Hadley High since Phoebe Prince's suicide but the teachers too. A teacher from a high school nearby said that the teachers from South Hadley were assaulted in the local supermarket by someone shouting "How can you live with yourself?"
But the blame game that is continuing in South Hadley is futile. As Phoebe's own aunt, Ellen Moore, pointed out, solving a bullying problem is not just about making the bullies act "nice". She said "You have to help the person who's being bullied get stronger."
The healing process for everybody at South Hadley will be a slow one however her legacy will eventually be a positive one as a whole generation in this town, and people across the globe, have learnt from Phoebe's case.
Phoebe's parents, Jeremy Prince and Anne O'Brien, are also determined that their daughter will leave a positive legacy and they have spent months trying to decide how to honor her. They have now set up a scholarship for graduates of Van Sickle Middle School, in Springfield. This is the school where Anne had taught before Phoebe's death.
In a statement issued to the Boston Globe her parents explained "Following the death of our daughter Phoebe we learned that both friends and people we did not know wished to contribute money to a scholarship in her honor…The scholarships to assist Van Sickle graduates will honor Phoebe’s love of learning and her compassion for those who face hardships…Phoebe would be proud to have her legacy associated with such a school community."
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