Amanda Bencomo, right, and Dahlia Chavez, left, present on
bullying during a Peace 90805 workshop on April 13.
By CSULB Senior Seminar Reporter Ariella Rams
Ed. Note: May is National Mental Health Awareness Month and for many youth all over Long Beach, bullying is a huge problem. In honor of this mental health awareness, VoiceWaves is highlighting the mental health affects of bullying and the importance of mental wellness and school-based mental health services to youth’s positive learning and development.
Looking into her brown doe-eyes, it’s easy to see kindness. It’s easy to see compassion. It’s easy to see hope, and tenacity, and drive.
What’s not easy to see, is a nineteen year-old David Starr Jordan High School senior who has been bullied in every stage of her life thus far.
During the fourth grade, Amanda Bencomo’s parents went through a separation, leaving her as the messenger between the two adults.
“I had to mature faster than everyone around me,” says Bencomo. “I would go back and forth between them, and in a way, that’s bullying too. I basically had to take care of my little brother and sister during that time.”
The following September, she entered the fifth grade.
“That’s my first memory of being bullied,” she says. “I had, and still have, economical issues. So I had raggedy clothes, and I was chubby. And people didn’t like my personality, so I had—and still have—a lot of bullies.”
While suffering from emotional and physical abuse at school and at home, Bencomo found solace in solitude. To stay busy, she played sports with boys in her class and turned into a tomboy, she says.
“That was fine for a while, but then past middle school it wasn’t cool,” she says, with a slight quiver of emotion in her voice, and a lowering of her head to hide the developing pinkness in her eyes. “People called me lesbian and stuff.
While things were bad at school, they were worse at home. The one person she loved talking to– her grandmother– died while she was in eighth grade, leading her into a spiral of depression. Bencomo was in need of a therapist and a social worker.
After recovering from depression and rising above her bullies, Bencomo became an active volunteer in her high school’s Peace 90805 club.
“What keeps me from falling back into that (emotional state) is focusing on school and clubs,” says Bencomo. “I know this isn’t forever, so I need to not focus on the negative and look to the future.”
[pullquote]“What keeps me from falling back into that (emotional state) is focusing on school and clubs,” says Bencomo. “I know this isn’t forever, so I need to not focus on the negative and look to the future.[/pullquote]
Peace 90805 was formed in 1999, following the 1995 murder of Jordan High School Winter Formal King, Javier Gutierrez, to promote peace and raise awareness about bullying and violence. Taken over by educator Summer Clancy in 2001, the club has helped facilitate the decline of bullying and violence in this part of North Long Beach.
“Sometimes kids are bullied or teased because of sexual preference, wealth and other reasons,” Clancy says, before Peace 90805 students gave a presentation on bullying. “They stick out and we want them to learn.”
Bencomo and classmate Dahlia Chavez began the presentation, held on April 13, by showing a trailer for the 2012 documentary, Bully.
The documentary profiles children and families across the United States that are victim to bullying. According to the movie, by the end of 2012 in the U.S. alone, 13 million children were bullied.
“Bullying happens is in schools and globally,” says Chavez. “And females are bullied more than men.”
To conclude, Chavez and Bencomo presented a student- made “How to Survive Bullying” step-by-step plan. The plan has many suggestions, including to “take action and stand up” as well as to “tell someone.”
Jordan High School Counselor Arlene Perez, LCSW, MSW has worked in the Long Beach Unified School District for 19 years.
“I’ve worked at every high school except Cabrillo,” she says. “This is my third year at Jordan. We really use programs, teachers and clubs so if someone is withdrawing we can see why and find out if bullying is a factor. It’s a team effort and a community effort to stop bullying.”
Due to the influx of technology and the fact that Facebook is just a click away, the most common, and recent, type of bullying most educators see is cyber bullying.
“It’s such a common issue,” she says. “If someone, usually a girl, comes to school with messed up hair or a different appearance, other girls can take a picture and post it on Facebook. Technology has made it worse and it’s something we didn’t see before.”
As bad as technology can make it, Perez makes sure to point out that it’s a two-way street. Students often bring videos, pictures, copies of threats and text messages to the office, and counselors are now equipped to handle most of those issues.
“I’d have to say bullying is less common now here,” says Bencomo. “But you can’t just change people, people have to be willing to change.”
To discuss bullying at the schools, the Long Beach Unified School District paired with the City of Long Beach to host a Bullying Prevention Symposium titled, “Bringing the Village Together in Support of Youth,” held Friday, May 17 at Cesar Chavez Park. The symposium will brought together community resources, school district programs, partnering community agencies, and Susan Isaacs, trainer for Safe and Civil Schools, to further educate on the topic of bullying.
For more information about Mental Health Awareness Month, go HERE.