Across the nation, high schools are waging war. Administrators, teachers and student groups are fighting destruction that occurs within their midst: bullying.
Stories of bullied teens committing suicide are all too common in the news these days, and the Gig Harbor community has not been immune. The Internet gives bullies more access to their victims than ever before.
Harassed at school and attacked on social networks, it’s easy for kids to feel trapped on all sides. Gig Harbor High School junior Jessica Sharp decided to do something to stop bullying at GHHS.
“A huge part of the problem at our school is that people honestly believe no one cares for them,” Sharp said.
She and fellow junior Peter Wellman have teamed up to fight cyber bullying with cyber bonding. In December 2012, the two launched the Facebook page “Gig Harbor Compliments.”
“The idea is simple,” a blurb on the page reads. “If you have something nice to say about someone that they need to hear, message that compliment as well as their name to us, and we will post it to our wall anonymously. They will be tagged in the post so that the next time they go on Facebook, they will receive their compliment.”
Today, the page has 770 followers and posts uplifting shout-outs daily.
Wellman got the idea for the page from a school in Ohio, which based its compliments page on a project at Queens University. Although the idea of virtual affirmations is not a new one, the creators of the Gig Harbor page were still surprised by the scope of the page’s impact at GHHS.
“People from totally different social groups and classes look out for each other,” Wellman said. “All sorts of people receive compliments.”
Other schools in the area are following the trend.
“Since the page was created, (Peninsula High School) has also created their own compliments page, and I’ve had my brain picked by several people from Stadium and South Kitsap (high schools) about what goes into running the page,” Wellman said
On Feb. 21, Gig Harbor senior Julia Smith logged on to her Facebook account to find a notification from “Gig Harbor Compliments.” As she clicked to the page, she was delighted to read the anonymous message tagged with her name:
“You have no idea how amazing you are ... You are extremely easy to talk to and I’m glad to have you as a friend. Stay awesome.”
“It was really unexpected,” Smith said, “and it completely made my day! It’s really nice to see all these compliments on my newsfeed for everyone.”
On the same day, sophomore Alec Bellis was tagged in a post on the page:
“Alec, we don’t talk often, but when I do I always find myself smiling. You are so polite and kind to everyone ... Keep up the good work bud because with that attitude, you will go far in life.”
Bellis was touched by the compliment, but he said the greatest aspect of the page is the scale of student involvement.
“I’m really happy that people have the kind hearts to not only run something like this page, but also that people have lots of compliments to give to others,” he said.
“It really is the small things that count,” Sharp said, reflecting on what the page means to her. “Sometimes people just need a shout-out to remind them that they really are loved.”
Bullying is still an urgent problem in our community and our nation, but with little acts of kindness like those of Sharp, Wellman — and the 770 followers of “Gig Harbor Compliments” — every one of us has the power to make a difference.
Anna Mikkelborg is a senior at Gig Harbor High School. She’s contributing to Youth Connection, a special student-focused column that will appear twice a month.