Cortney Sczuka has been both a victim and perpetrator of bullying at Iola High School.
She knows the pain of being tormented by mean words and actions, as well as the guilt of hurting others.
Although she feels she has been able to distance herself from the hurtful acts, the prevalence of bullying in Iola schools has her concerned.
Wednesday morning she found herself writing a letter to no one in particular about her concerns, including “some day you may push someone too far and they kill themselves … You can’t take your words back, you can’t get rid of the hurt, the scars.”
Sczuka took her letter to the high school guidance counselor, Mandy Stiffler, and assistant principal, Joe Sample. Both encouraged Sczuka to get her concerns out to a bigger audience.
Today Sczuka hopes to gather supporters at a meeting to organize an effective way to combat kids beating up on other kids — both verbally and physically.
FOR THOSE who think Sczuka is being overly dramatic, take note of her remarks:
• During Tuesday night’s girls basketball game, students were taking pictures of the lopsided score and sending derogatory text messages, humiliating the female athletes;
• In the school hallways before and after school, during lunch at the cafeteria, and even during class, students taunt fellow students, teasing them about their appearance or how they talk, or any other perceived weakness. “Teachers seem helpless in combatting the bullying,” Sczuka said.
• A student who recently suffered a miscarriage is now being called a “baby-killer,” and “whore” by her classmates;
• According to an informal poll, Sczuka said more than one-third of IHS students miss school on a regular basis from fear of being bullied. “They’re too scared to come to school,” she said.
• Students do harm to themselves to relieve the pain of being bullied. They burn themselves with cigarettes and cut themselves with razors and knives. “I see it all the time,” she said. Somehow, self-inflicting pain gives the students an “emotional escape,” from being bullied;
• More than 80 percent of IHS students, again according to the poll, admit to bullying, have witnessed others being bullied, or have been victims of bullying;
• Of those 80 percent, almost all hide the fact from their parents or teachers.
SCZUKA RECALLS as a freshman having drinks poured on her and being verbally attacked by gangs of girls.
“I tried to fight back by throwing the words back at them,” she said. “I tried to act tough, like a smart ass, and that I didn’t care.”
It got to the point she wanted to drop out of school, where the thought of being called “trash” one more time would send her over the edge.
“I felt so alone. That nobody cared,” she said.
“I’m here to tell them I care, and so do a lot of others,” Sczuka said. Her letter has already garnered strong support from several of her friends who say they are willing to stand by her side in her efforts to organize a support group against bullying.
Sometimes simply walking away from bullies helps stop the action. After all, they need an audience. But that still doesn’t rid kids of feeling they are outcasts.
Just about everyone seems to be prey, Sczuka said.
“I was amazed to learn that even those I consider to be popular — you know, those who have nice clothes, nice cars, and are athletes — suffer from being bullied.
“The worst is when you’re with friends, or who you thought were your friends, and they start bullying someone. It’s hard to walk away from your peers,” she said.
Sczuka knows she’s opening herself up for possibly another round of ridicule by her willingness to confront bullies. But something tells her this time, she’s on the right side of the argument.
“I’m willing to stand up for this. It’s hard to find help. I’m here to say I’m there for them. I’m willing to listen. And together, maybe we can make a difference.”