a peek inside the fishbowl

02 Sep, 2013

Small actions

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Challenge me, challenge you|Misc. life|Ottawa

I'm at high school orientation. (!) How on earth did this happen?

Someone here at Casa Fishbowl is starting ninth grade tomorrow. I am pretty excited for her. The parent orientation day took place back in January so I’ve had a few months to get accustomed to the idea. There was a tour of the building, and lots of great information to bring home and consider. The high school experience has come such a long way since I was a student (and my high school was quite progressive and had a some interesting programs that were unheard of elsewhere). I was thrilled to learn about Nepean’s fantastic drama program, their commitment to fitness and athletics… and more.

I sensed that staff at Nepean are passionate about the education and experience of their young charges. I walked away happy that day, but there was one thing gnawed at me, and has been ever since. What about the news stories exposing the froshing and hazing rituals that seem to come out every September?

This all first came to my attention in 2010. I’m not sure whether it was because the stories received so much media attention, or because we live near the school (or maybe it was because we were close to becoming parents of a high school student) but they hit close to home. Here’s an archived news story about it. If you read it, don’t skip over the comments. Some people obviously don’t think it’s a big deal, but I do. And then there was this:

I entered Nepean High School in 2001, with the double cohort, and a sibling graduating that year. Every single day for three weeks I was egged, beaten, taped to trees, covered in mustard, honeyed and feathered, chased in cars, and shot by paintballs. All of that… Every day. My parents contacted the police and the school, but nothing was done and they were told it was just “kids being kids.” I also had text books stolen the same day I got them, which made me look like a bad student and cost me money to replace.

Some of the comments say students should just “take another route” and kids should have “sense to notice and avoid trouble.” It’s not possible when you’re the 13 year old target running home from groups of ten 18 year olds with cars.

I have rarely spoken of these events, but I have decided to open up in the spirit of saving other young students from going through what I went through.

Hazing was a major problem at Nepean nine years ago, and apparently they still have done little to prevent it.

Thanks Nepean.”

It is worth saying that this happened 2001, but it still breaks my heart. This person has lived with this experience all of their lives. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be that person. And the example given above is probably (hopefully!) an extreme one, but I don’t think that ANY froshing is acceptable, even something as seemingly innocuous as tossing an egg at someone as they’re riding their bike. (Speaking of which, there’s also this story about a kid being charged for running over another kid’s bike.)

I am certain that Nepean administrators are doing what they can to prevent this from happening, and it’s likely that only a small percentage of the student body is involved. On our orientation day I leaned about something called the FUSE program, which is ultimately about mentoring and building a stronger and more inclusive school community, but the truth is that the admin’s reach can only go so far.

So here’s what I’m going to do.

Tomorrow I will go outside at 3:15 when school lets out. I will take the dog for a walk, making sure that my route includes the streets bordering the school. My plan is to do this until about 4:00. And I’ll bring my phone with me, just in case.

I don’t expect much, but my small hope is that maybe the presence of an adult will help deter any drive-by eggings and provide a small comfort to the young students who will be walking home, hoping they don’t end up taped to a tree.

Will there be froshing this week? I hope that my action will be rendered useless and that nothing happens, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Froshing may be considered tradition in some people’s minds, but in mine it is nothing but bullying, plain and simple, and it’s unacceptable.

What do you think? If you live in Westboro will you please consider taking a stroll around the neighborhood at 3:15? Or perhaps sharing this post with someone who can? Even if you can’t walk, even sitting on your front porch at that time might really help someone. Thank you!


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10 Responses to "Small actions"

1 | Leah

September 2nd, 2013 at 8:23 pm

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Great idea, Andrea! When I started grade 9 at Nepean I remember trying to fake-sick my way out of fresh week… And that was in 1981!

Nepean is our local high school too, but given how far away we are from it, I’m not sure a 3:15pm walk from me will help. But, D is starting grade 7 at Fisher tomorrow and maybe hazing happens there too. In any event, I’ll definitely be out and about, keeping a subtle eye on things.

2 | coffeewithjulie

September 3rd, 2013 at 7:46 am

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I think that’s a great idea, Andrea! From my high school memories, they did this kind of froshing activity INSIDE school! Then again, we also had a really lovely smoking area with benches and shrubbery. Things can change. I hope your action helps with the change.

3 | Nat

September 3rd, 2013 at 8:00 am

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This is an interesting idea if only for your own peace of mind. (And you have the time to do this, lots of working full time parents don’t have the time to be the hazing police.) It doesn’t, However, address the bigger issue of why this is tolerated by the school and why they aren’t taking more serious steps to stop it. I’d suggest calling the school principal and asking him/her what they’re doing to prevent this behavior. Seems to me, it’s partly there responsibility too…

4 | andrea tomkins

September 3rd, 2013 at 8:15 am

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I realize that only a small percentage of people can participate, BUT there are enough stay-at-home types (seniors, parents of younger kids etc) to make a difference… even if it prevents one kid from getting harassed it is time well spent in my view.

And yes, this can certainly occur on school grounds, but from what I’ve heard, Nepean staff take this all very seriously and the situation has improved over the years. I know my post sounds negative, but I actually am trying to be positive and just taking a wait and see approach. Hopefully nothing happens! All I’m doing is taking a well-timed stroll around the neighborhood after all. :)

5 | Jane

September 3rd, 2013 at 10:20 am

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Our son entered Gr. 9 last year at Nepean and from his accounts it sounds like hazing/froshing rituals are actively discouraged and have largely disappeared. I believe there was quite a serious incident a couple of years ago and the school took steps to make changes–which seem to have worked.

Nevertheless, being a presence/witness in the neighbourhood is also a good idea.

6 | Lisa from Iroquois

September 3rd, 2013 at 12:52 pm

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I think your plan to ‘be visible’ is a brilliant one. It harkens back to the days when neighbors knew each other and there were ‘communities’ involved. Remember that quote about “It takes a village to raise a child.”

7 | a nepean mom

September 3rd, 2013 at 3:02 pm

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This year my family has both a grade 9 frosh and a grade 12 that attend Nepean. When our oldest entered grade 9, I was very worried about the froshing.

We moved a few blocks from Nepean in 1999. The froshing was awful in those early years. Students skipped school, travelled in packs or had parent back up. That was an awful way to begin what should be an exciting 4 years. Thankfully, after several well publicized and embarrassing media stories, the school administration began to address the problem. The FUSE program was started, and students who ‘froshed’ were severely punished.

Our now Grade 12 was not froshed at all when entering high school. The climate at Nepean has changed. Those were not froshed are less likely to frosh. (I can’t believe I am using frosh as a verb-sorry!) I confidently sent our new grade 9 out the door this morning.

By all means take Piper for her walk, she will enjoy it! The more people out living and using our neighbourhood, the more friendly and liveable our neighbourhood is. Your grade 9 and her friends will be fine.

8 | Ginger

September 3rd, 2013 at 10:16 pm

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I hope today was a happy, successful, and uneventful day! High school! That is so exciting and as hard to believe as mine just turning 5! :) Happy School Year!

9 | andrea tomkins

September 3rd, 2013 at 10:21 pm

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Thanks everyone!
I did my walkabout this afternoon and it was perfectly uneventful. It was a great day overall and we are all very happy. :) xo!

10 | Hazed and Confuzed

September 4th, 2013 at 3:51 pm

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No eggs or duct tape on the street but what’s happening in their deep dark cyberworld?

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