Will St Josephs College EVER stop the bullying?


stjoeThis is no longer a question directed at students of St Josephs College in Samoa, but now one strictly pointed at the teachers, principal and administration. WHY IS BULLYING STILL SO PREVALENT IN ST JOSEPHS?

The topic of bullying in school has been well researched and published, and the common underlying belief is that the best way to address bullying is to stop it before it starts. There are a number of things school staff can do to make schools safer and prevent bullying.

But why after so many years of bullying at St Josephs have none of the established strategies on anti-bullying being implemented in the school? When I was in high school in the 1990s, St Josephs were the most feared and the ones who usually started the fights on the sea wall and at the athletics. When I was reporting for the national papers, St Josephs students were part of one of the biggest student riots in town, which saw the use of molotov bombs and defacing of public property.

Don’t take me wrong, other schools were involved, but St Josephs has a particular reputation, backed up by anecdotal and physical evidence, of the violence they impose not just in school but in the high school community.

According to one of the students at the school, after viewing the video he said the incident was known to some teachers but that it was normal and so they did not act on it.

According to the same source, it is obvious in the video that the student being bullied is new, as evident in the neat nature of his uniform, and that he was a target as a result of his new status.

There are so many questions that need to be answered relating to this case, but the most important one is, how could something like this happen in their school, and the public finds out before the Principal does? And why would would the Principal comment: “This must be stopped.” When it should be: “All students involved will be expelled, we do not tolerate bullying?”

I’m so sick and tired of hearing these stories, not just from St Josephs but from all high schools. Why, in a day and age when we should know better, do teachers and Principals still tolerate such behavior?

When I was in Samoa College, there was so much bullying in the Samoa College Hostel, that now when I look back, some of the things I witnessed could be classified as ‘torture’ in international human rights terminology. Things like, juniors having to swallow erasers while standing on a bucket, or having to hold razor blades by their tongues while a senior boy dictates the next move. Or when they are banned from eating because they woke up a few minutes late. Or when as a junior girl you are punched by the junior leader for not washing the tea towel correctly.

These practices are often known to the teachers and Principals but no one acts on it. Luckily for Samoa College the Principal that came in, in my last year made some changes and things are much better now.

Schools like St Josephs need to make the necessary changes to ensure that no more young men or women are bullied, they need to give these people  a way to complain and to make their voices heard if incidences like this occur.

I want to thank the young man who posted the video online, but I fear for his safety considering his friends would know who took the video. I also continue to fear for the safety of the victim in the video, as he will still be exposed to friends of the bullies.

What measures are in place to protect the whistle blowers? Here are some anti-bullying tips from Edutopia, for principals, teachers and parents.

Five Tips to Help Principals Prevent Bullying

According to Dillon, effectively addressing a bullying problem requires a culture change. A true culture change takes time, but a few key steps to help principals get started:

  • Practice What You Preach Don’t use your status as the school leader as the lever for change; instead, “listen before talking and reflect before acting” to ensure your staff feel valued (this is backed up by the NEA survey, which found an important predictor of adult willingness to intervene in bullying was their “connectedness” to the school, defined as their belief they are valued as individuals and professionals in the learning process).
  • Assess the Extent of the Problem Survey students, staff and parents to find out how much and what type of bullying is going, as well as where and when, to target prevention efforts.
  • Develop a School-wide Code of Conduct that reinforces school values and clearly defines unacceptable behavior and consequences. Empower bystanders — teachers and especially students — to help enforce it by training them to identify and respond to inappropriate behavior.
  • Increase Adult Supervision Most bullying happens when adults are not present, so make sure they are “visible and vigilant” in hallways, stairwells, cafeterias and locker rooms, as well as on buses and the way to and from school for students who walk.
  • Conduct Bullying Prevention Activities such as all-school assemblies, communications campaigns or creative arts contests highlighting school values to bring the community together and reinforce the message that bullying is wrong.

(These tips were adapted from articles by James Dillon from Principal magazine, Sept/Oct 2010 and Ted Feinberg from Principal Leadership, Sept. 2003.)

Five Tips to Help Teachers Prevent Bullying

Even when a school leader doesn’t have a formal bullying prevention agenda, teachers can create safe, bully-free zones in their classrooms:

  • Know Your School and District Policies on Bullying Do your part to implement them effectively.
  • Treat Students and Others with Warmth and Respect Let students know that you are available to listen and help them.
  • Conduct Classroom Activities around Bullying Help your class identify bullying in books, TV shows and movies, and discuss the impact of that bullying and how it was/could be resolved. Hold class meetings in which students can talk about bullying and peer relations.
  • Discuss Bullying with Colleagues As a group, you will be better able to monitor the school environment. Discuss both bullying in general and concerns regarding specific students.
  • Take Immediate Action Failure to act provides tacit approval of the behavior and can cause it to spread.

(These tips were adapted from NEA’s Bully Free: It Starts With Me andAFT’s See A Bully, Stop A Bully campaign resources.)

Five Tips to Help Parents Prevent Bullying

Parents and guardians are among a school’s best allies in bullying prevention:

  • Talk with and Listen to Your Children Everyday Ask questions about their school day, including experiences on the way to and from school, lunch, and recess. Ask about their peers. Children who feel comfortable talking to their parents about these matters before they are involved in bullying are more likely to get them involved after.
  • Spend time at School and Recess Schools can lack the resources to provide all students individualized attention during “free” time like recess. Volunteer to coordinate games and activities that encourage children to interact with peers aside from their best friends.
  • Be a Good Example When you get angry at waiters, other drivers or others, model effective communication techniques. As Education.com puts it, “Any time you speak to another person in a mean or abusive way, you’re teaching your child that bullying is ok.”
  • Create Healthy Anti-Bullying Habits Starting as young as possible, coach your children on both what not to do (push, tease, and be mean to others) as well as what to do (be kind, empathize, and take turns). Also coach your child on what to do if someone is mean to him or to another (get an adult, tell the bully to stop, walk away and ignore the bully).
  • Make Sure Your Child Understands Bullying Explicitly explain what it is and that it’s not normal or tolerable for them to bully, be bullied, or stand by and watch other kids be bullied.

(These tips were adapted from materials by the National PTA andEducation.com.)

The Bottom Line

Bullying is an enormous problem, and we must all do our part to impact it. If nothing else, remember one of Dillon’s suggestions (intended for school leaders but I think applicable to all):

“Little things can make a big difference. Simple and genuine gestures, such as regularly greeting students, talking to students, and addressing students by name, help to make students feel connected.”

Anyone can start doing those types of things today. If you are interested in further resources on bullying and its prevention, check out Learning First Alliance member resources and the StopBullying website.


Here’s to Commonwealth Youth Award Winner Brianna Fruean


Brianna with her Award (Picture: Pauline Fruean)

A 16 year old Samoan made history this week, by being the youngest recipient of the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Awards. Brianna Fruean was awarded the Climate Change, Environment Protection Award, and the only recipient from the Pacific.

Where do I even begin with this super-person. Whenever she speaks I always think of the other elements to this young woman, her supportive parents, her sister and the community that raised her, but most importantly, her own drive and passion to succeed.

I remember, shortly after her father passed away some years ago, she spoke at a conference, so eloquently and so passionate, and it was all the more moving, knowing that she had just gone through an extremely difficult time in her life, but still she remained steadfast in her campaign for environmental protection.

So here’s to you Ms. Brianna Fruean, for being an amazing young person and for being an agent of change.

Note to other youngsters who are busy drinking and wasting your youth away – find a cause, spend your time fighting for a cause instead of devoting it entirely to pleasure – give back to the world that nurtured your ancestors – make a difference. When in doubt ask Brianna 🙂 She did it!

Two Samoan teenagers almost died in another car crash last night


Photo for illustrative purposes only. This is not a photo from the scene.

I witnessed a car crash last night about fifteen minutes outside of Apia. I was at a friends house when a pickup truck crashed within 40 meters of where we were standing. It was around 9:30 pm at night, when we heard the very loud bang, we saw from afar that a taxi stopped where the vehicle was, hanging over the water, held only by the power cables that hold the pole to the ground.

Being trained in first aid, we ran to the location of the accident. When we arrived at the scene, the first thing that I saw was an older Samoan man, in his 40s shouting loudly at a young blonde Samoan teenager. “I saw you overtake the vehicle, how can you not see that this is a bend?” The youngster screamed back: “I didn’t see the bend, it’s dark and I don’t know this road.”

Another teenager was standing next to her, it was clear that no one was injured, but the car was in no condition to be moved.

My first thought was to make sure that the young women were ok. I walked over and looked closely at the young woman who was screaming, and asked if she was ok. She was in a state of shock, but she was standing and seemed ok, at least physically.

I said a few words to the gentleman berating the young woman, and he left promptly to inspect the tyres of the vehicle.

From what I saw, the vehicle was speeding from Apia towards the eastern side, on the coast, when they came to a bend, not knowing the road, she made a swerve that was too far to the left and ended up heading straight for the power pole, lucky for them, the cables that hold the pole to the ground obstructed her trajectory and instead propelled the vehicle and threw it at a 180 degree angle, only to be caught again by the second cable thus preventing the car from being thrown into the ocean. Someone was looking out for these two last night, they were mere inches away from being wrapped around a power pole and then thrown into the ocean.

But this post is about what happened next.

After some scattered dialogue, it was established that the screaming young woman, was the driver. While I was talking to her, the smell of alcohol was quite apparent in her breath.

The other young woman, was sober and seemed in a very calm state of mind considering the circumstances, so while a friend talked to the driver, I approached the calm young woman.

This is how the conversation went.

Are you ok?

Passenger: Yes.

What happened?

Passenger: My friend is very upset, she was just very upset, so it caused the accident.

Was she drinking?

Passenger: She didn’t drink that much, just a shot.

A shot is drinking.

Passenger: I’m sorry.

Don’t say sorry to me, say sorry to yourself. You seem like a very smart person, the decision to get in the car with your friend who was drinking could have costed you your life.

Passenger: I didn’t know she was this upset.

Do you need to inform your parents?

Passenger: I don’t want them to know.

She told me she was wearing a seat belt and she could not convince her friend to do the same, which explains why she seemed calm. If she was not in the seat belt, she could have been thrown out of the vehicle during the accident.

I didn’t probe her for the number of her parents, but after the helpers examined the condition of the vehicle it was decided that there was no way it could be moved without a tow truck or machinery.

So then we had to ask the driver to call her Dad. This is how the conversation went.

We need to call your Dad, the car cannot be moved and we need to make arrangements for you both and for the car.

Driver: Oh my God, my Dad is going to be so pissed off.

After another back and forth she called her Dad. The Dad answered, she asked for him to call back, he did. It was obvious that she was in no state to have the conversation with her father, and her words were not making sense, so I took the phone and got friends to calm the driver down while I talked to her father.

This is how the conversation went.

Hi I’m ++++. Your daughter is incoherent because she was just involved in a car accident, she is fine, she has no visible injuries but it would be worth checking, however we wanted to inform you, the vehicle cannot be moved without a tow truck.

Father: What the hell is she doing at (names the village).

I don’t know, but she is safe.

Father: (inaudible cussing) What about the car?

It can’t be moved.

Father: What do you mean it cant be moved.

It’s stuck in power cables.

Father: Put her back on the phone now.

Your daughter is in shock and is not in a condition to talk. But you need to come pick her up.

Father: I don’t have a car to pick her up in. Put her on the phone right now.

I had the phone to my husband instead, who goes on to explain again that his daughter is in shock, this time the father insists yet again to speak to the daughter.

This is what I overhear.

Daughter: (In tears) I went to pick up (names passenger) because no one understands what i’m going through. No one listens to me. I’m sorry Dad, but no one understands me.

This type of tone continues for a while until she hangs up.

Four of us are now talking to them about the next steps and a friend says to her: You two are very lucky, you two could have ended up in the ocean, dead if not for those cables.

Driver: I wish I was in the ocean right now. My Dad is going to be so mad.

My friend, a mother of two grown young men kicks into comfort mode and tells them it doesn’t matter what happens from then on, as long as they are alive, that is the main thing.


My Reflections:

When I went away from the scene, the driver and her friend now safely tucked in our friends house awaiting her parents, these were my thoughts.

1. Not once did the father ask if his daughter was ok.

2. Everyone at the scene before us were ready to beat up the driver of the vehicle, even though it did not harm them.

3. Why was this young woman drinking, and what was she doing driving?

4. Why did her friend get in the car knowing that the driver was drinking.

5. How come her father did not know where she was?

6. What if that was my daughter?

The incident is a painful reminder that some of the idle rich youth of Samoa need to be saved from themselves. When you give a young person who has never learnt to be responsible in their lives unlimited resources, some of them make decisions like this young woman, these two were lucky their lives were spared, but it could easily not have been.

But more than anything, this incident is a painful reminder that instead of an initial caring thought for those whom we love who have just been traumatized by something, the initial thought is anger. Those who were first at the scene were not attending to the young women, but instead were berating her for driving so fast.

When I got home, I looked them up on Facebook and found out that one was a national representative for Samoa, both just graduated from high school. They were so young and seemed well loved, last night could have been their last. Fortunately it was not. I hope however that the incident taught the driver a life lesson.