A recent article in the Asbury Park Press details the story of “J,” an 11-year old boy who asked his grandmother for a rope, nail and a stool. When asked by his grandmother what the items were for, he told her they were to hang himself.
Two months later, the case has been closed, but the bullying at school continues. Even with school hallway walls plastered with “anti-bully” posters, “J” still faces bullying every day.
“J” is not the only child who deals with bullying at school. Studies have found that 1 out of every 10 students in school experience bullying on a weekly or daily basis. With many teachers having 25 or 30 students per class, this means that in any given classroom, three children are the victims of bullying.
Elizabeth Cummings has a mission to help these children.
“When I was a kid growing up, I was the shy, quiet kid. I didn’t have the confidence to make friends or talk to people, and I didn’t do well in junior high or high school. It wasn’t until I got out and become more of ‘me’ that things changed.”
A former school teacher, Cummings has dedicated her time and energy to working with local school districts to improve their policies and help keep bullying from affecting children.
Many school districts now have put into place policies that protect children from bullying. For example, in 2009 the state of Oregon created the “Oregon Safe Schools Act.” This gives a clear definition of bullying, harassment and intimidation for school teachers and administrators, raises awareness for teachers, and provides standards for individual school districts to follow.
While over 83 percent of Oregon school districts were found compliant in February 2015, there is one aspect of bullying that cannot be addressed with policy.
“Today you’re looking at well about 20 or 30 kids in a classroom, and a teacher can’t handle everything by themselves,” explains Cummings. “A teacher can’t watch all the kids on the playground by themselves. So you have to be in there with them, be a part of the group, and know the kids. You know who the bullies are. But you still have to teach them and help them be strong.”
Cummings’ perspective is unique in that she understands the challenges that teachers face in handling bullying in school, as well as the outside perspective as a business owner who works with children.
She says that the solution lies in empowering the individual by raising their self-esteem.
“When a child feels confident, they feel good about themselves and who they are. And when a kid feels confidence and walks down the hall, he or she has their head up with a ‘don’t pick on me’ attitude.”
Today Cummings, along with her husband Jim, own ATA Martial Arts, a taekwondo school in Shawnee, Kansas.
“When I first met my husband, he put me in martial art classes, and from there I learned it was okay to be me. It built my confidence and my self-esteem soared. And now I get to teach kids to be proud of who they are.”
Many businesses, including martial arts schools, partner with school districts to work with children who are the targets of bullying. While schools work on reducing bullying school wide, programs like this help children who are targets of bullying become more confident and more resilient.
By focusing on the individual child’s self-esteem, bullying can have less of an detrimental effect on children. This way, children like “J” will be less affected by the bullying that he does encounter.
“Children must learn to stand up for themselves,” says Cummings. “Maybe not fight, but stand up using their words. A kid may be scared, but they will still stand up because they have that courage and that confidence inside.”
To learn more about how Elizabeth Cummings fights bullying through martial arts, visit: http://www.shawnee-martialarts.com.