BENNINGTON -- As a soft-spoken teenager who was not particularly athletic, Griffin Thomas was often picked on in middle school. Luckily, Thomas was in an environment at Mount Anthony Union Middle School in which adults offered the support he needed, but not all students in rural Vermont are as fortunate.
"I was an easy target. I didn't speak up ... and I was not as athletic as a lot of the kids," Thomas said. "I felt really lucky, the middle school has a very good support system with administrators and counselors and school-based clinicians that really care about the students and have training to help students cope with bullies. But smaller schools just don't have the training capacities and students can fall through the cracks."
Now, Thomas is using his own experience to help others as the first student representative on the state's new Harassment, Hazing, and Bullying Prevention Advisory Council, to which he was appointed by Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca.
Thomas participated in the group's initial meeting through video-confrencing and has already brought forward a number of ideas to the council of 17 individuals, including representatives from many state education and bullying prevention groups.
Joining a group of adults as a student representative is not new to Thomas, who is now a senior at Mount Anthony Union High School. Thomas has been the student representative on the MAU school board since his sophomore year and he was also involved in the high school's accreditation process on a committee examining aspects of school culture through the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
Among the ideas Thomas has already brought forward is additional training, not just for teachers but also cafeteria employees, bus drivers and other school staff.
"Most of the bullying doesn't happen in the classroom environment ... it happens in the hallways, in the cafeteria and on the bus," Thomas said.
The other idea Thomas proposed is one that may sound strange to a person who has ever been bullied -- although makes a lot of sense -- which is to offer more support for the bullies.
"I would like to see there be some different helps and supports with the actual bullies themselves, not just you get suspended," he said. "There needs to be a support system for them as well."
Thomas, who after school works as a para-educator in afterschool programs at MAUMS, said there is often a deeper problem for the bullies that makes them lash out at others. With more supports in place, those individuals could be assisted to cope with their own problems and learn not to hurt others.
The council, which was called for in state law that passed this spring, is intended to pool resources and efforts from various groups already in existence that are committed to maintaining a safe school climate. The group will meet for three hours every four to six weeks.
Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi