Seward High School Sophomore Kimberly “Kimmy” Hubbard, 15, was recently moved to pen a heartfelt poem against bullying. She’d just learned that Jonathon Schaff, 13, a young friend of the family, had killed himself back home in Sciota County, Ohio, where she, her twin Kyle, and four older siblings lived before moving with their grandmother to Seward. Hubbard was devastated to learn that the day before Jonathan took his life, he’d been bullied by his peers after a football game at his middle school, and that one of his peers had told him to go kill himself.
Young boy only 13 years old
Funny as could be and had a heart as fine as Gold,
But the kids in his school had no clue,
What their words and actions could do,
With hateful words they wore him down,
His happiness was suddenly flipped around.
-excerpt from Hubbard’s poem.
Hubbard posted her poem to a website discussing Jonathon’s death. It struck an immediate chord with Brenda Strickland, an anti-bullying/suicide prevention educator and schoolteacher in nearby Portsmouth, Ohio. Strickland got Hubbard’s permission to be allowed to use her poem in her future anti-bullying workshops in her area schools, and to feature it as part of a bullying awareness float dedicated to Jonathan at the River Days Parade August 25th in Portsmouth. Normally, every school sends its own separate group or groups to march in the annual parade, but this year, Strickland invited them all to join together and march as one against bullying, as it occurs in every school. She also invited Kimmy to attend, not realizing that she lived so far away.
“I’m just thrilled that we have a Kimberly in the world that will share her thoughts and her poem with the world,” Strickland said, trying to explain why she felt touched by the poem. “Here we have this young woman who could put to words what everyone was thinking.”
Kimmy and Kyle both suffer FAS (fetal alcohol syndrome) -related learning challenges, and have ADHD, and have also had hurtful words aimed at them from their peers while at school in Seward. Kimmy became a bully herself in the 6th grade, thinking it would help, a move she now regrets for the hurt she caused. And Kyle badly injured his own hand punching his locker after a frustrating incident of bullying at middle school. Some kids are strong, and can take people calling them “stupid,” and saying other things, but after hearing it repeated for years, it can wear them down until one day it’s too much, Kimmy said.
“Three hateful words were said one day,
“Go kill yourself,” his best friend asked, “are you okay?”
With tears in his eyes he replied “I’m tough”
But being tough was not enough,
Heaven gained an angel that day,
Because of the hateful words those bullies used to say.
Like the schools in Seward do, Jonathan’s middle school in Ohio also had a “no tolerance” policy for bullying, and it even had anti-bullying assemblies, said Jonathan’s parents. But after Jonathon’s parents reported prior incidents to the principal, they said nothing changed. Kimmy’s grandmother Jody Tuck also feels that there were inadequate consequences after she reported her grandson’s bullying experience.
Kimmy would like to go to the parade to represent the youth of Alaska, accompanied by her “Mamaw” Jody, and hopes that her visit will encourage those at the gathering to see someone their age who also loved Jonathan, and believes in the same cause travel so far.
“I want to make sure this doesn’t happen again. I know I’m only 15, and people might say my opinion doesn’t matter. But who else is there. Why can’t it be a fifteen year old?
Strickland, a substitute teacher with a master’s degree in teaching is experienced in teaching conflict resolution to youth, and has been providing character-building, bullying and suicide prevention workshops and assemblies for local schools and community members in her county. Over 3,500 people came to the first anti-bullying assembly she organized, and more than 500 attended another recent workshop. She also provides anti-bullying information to coaches, teachers and parents who will be dealing with youth. Idealistic youngsters like Kimmy give her hope for the future:
“You see such negativity, and to finally have such a shining light. The words of a fellow student and someone that young would touch them way more than an adult’s. Her words and her message will be very powerful among the young people.”
“Dear bullies what you say and do,
Affects the people around you,
You can’t say you’re sorry now because it’s too late,
This wasn’t supposed to be Jonathan’s fate,
Think of this as a lesson to all of you,
Turn from your old ways and do something new,
Stand up for the students in your school,
Because bullying someone doesn’t make you cool.”
Kyle gave all of his toy cars to Jonathan when they left Ohio eight years ago, and Kimmy remembers enjoying good times with Jonathan and his older sister Dusty, who was their age.
“One memory is of me and him and Dusty playing in the water outside, having mud fights and laughing at each other. We had no care in the world. All you could see was his eyes were clear, but everything else was just filthy.” Another memory is playing on the swings together. “I fell off, and he was just laughing at me.” She also remembers when they were swinging on their porch, talking about their futures. “I said I want to be a ballerina, and he said, I’m going to be whatever God wants me to be.’”
After the local tragedies last winter the school counselor, SeaView Community Services, and members of the church community provided counseling. Soon after, the Seward Prevention Coalition began thinking of ideas to help strengthen suicide prevention in the community, such as youth mentoring. AVTEC Alaska’s Vocational Technical Education Center held a suicide prevention workshop for its staff; and an Alaska-based play about youth suicide called Winter Bear, came to Seward, and played for the schools and the community.
Dear family Jonathan is somewhere standing tall,
He is with Jesus passing the football,
So dry your tears and put on a smile,
We will see Jonathan in a little while,
If you’d like to help Kimmy and Jody’s travel to the parade in Ohio, or to have airline miles to donate, please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Jody at 491-0055