Author talks about being bullied

Jodee Blanco was tormented so relentlessly by her classmates when she was in middle school and high school that she once tried to bring a kitchen knife to school to exact her revenge on her fellow students.

Luckily, her mother found the knife in her book bag and took her to the hospital to get her help instead.

More than 20 years have passed since Blanco graduated from high school, and now she spends her time talking to students around the country about her own experiences and the dangerous effects of bullying.

On Monday, she spoke to seventh-graders at Toll Middle School, sharing personal incidents of harassment and embarrassment that she wrote about in her 2003 book, “Please Stop Laughing at Me .?.?.?.”

Blanco described herself to the crowd of students as a teenage outcast who suffered continual abuse from her peers during her years in junior high and high school.

She once had her favorite shoes dumped in a school toilet, she had her locker filled with rotten food, and she was thrown on the ground outside her school and snow was stuffed down her throat, she said.

Through her stories, she pressed students to see that what may seem funny at the time can lead to tragic consequences.

“You guys, it is not just joking around. You are damaging each other for life,” Blanco repeated several times during her talk with students at Toll.

She related her own experience to the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, saying that bullying had played a role in the violent actions taken by the two gunmen who acted in that deadly incident.

In contrast to Columbine, Blanco's story ends happily. She finished high school, developed a successful career as a publicist and went to her 20-year high school reunion, where she received apologies from her former classmates for how they treated her.

But at the time, Blanco said she didn't know if she would make it.

And she predicted that there were some students at Toll who are going through similar social hardships.

“When I was your age, I was the kid who everyone made fun of. And I know there are kids like me in the auditorium right now, and you guys know it, too,” she said.

Blanco's visit is part of a school-wide effort to rein in bullying at Toll, Principal Paula Nelson said.

Educators at the school have been working this year to combat what Nelson called a “ubiquitous” culture of bullying among middle school students, and make the school a “kinder, gentler” place.

Seventh-graders specifically were invited to hear Blanco speak because many students who are at that age — neither the youngest nor the oldest in the school — are poised to either become caring upperclassmen or head in the opposite direction, Nelson said.

Bullying can be a problem among middle school students because they sometimes don't have a firm enough sense of self to stand up to bullies, said Rose Samore, a counselor at Hoover High School who watched the presentation.

“This is the prime time to be talking about this,” she said.

Blanco advised the students to stand up to bullies nonviolently, by looking them in the eye and telling them to stop.

For Linda Allahyarian, 13, Blanco's presentation was a reminder to consider how other people will react to things their peers say and do.

“I learned that no matter who it is, you shouldn't really bother them, you should realize they have feelings inside,” Linda said.

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