Hampden Charter School of Science in Chicopee fights bullying through poetry

Date Published: 
December 27, 2013
Jeanette DeForge
News Type: 

CHICOPEE – It all started in the fifth grade when a group of boys started ganging up on Jon Martinez. 

They hit him in gym class when the teacher wasn’t looking, leading to a fistfight. They called him names such as gay and faggot. Even though he had complained, teachers were unable to completely stop the bullying. 

For several years Martinez, now a ninth-grader at Hampden Charter School of Science, constantly faced taunts from the same boys. Finally, as he reached high school, it stopped. 

“I think it just got old. Some of the kids left and it got a little better,” he said. “It’s been pretty good this year.” 

Martinez, of Springfield, was one of 57 ninth-graders at the school who together wrote poems about bullying and performed them in an assembly to the middle school students recently. He used his experiences to help write some of the poems. 

This is the second year English teacher Matthew Darling has taken an intensive lesson about poetry and also made it a social behavior lesson to reduce bullying in the school.

The lesson started with students learning about, reading and writing a wide variety of different types of poetry. Then, as homework, he assigned all of his ninth-graders to write poems in different styles about bullying. 

Students then split into groups of three and four, read all their poems and selected the one they most wanted to perform. Students edited and improved them together and some incorporated the best ideas of other works into their final product, he said. 

They then memorized the poems and performed them to the sixth, seventh and eighth-graders in the school. 

“They all really got into it,” Darling said. “This is something they all care about.”

They also worked with the art teacher to make posters to support their poetry.

Subjects ranged widely. Some focused on cyber bullying; many, including Martinez’s group, wrote about bullying of students who are gay. 

“There are people I know who are gay, bisexual or lesbian and they go through so much because of who they like,” Martinez said. “It was about not judging them and accepting who they are.” 

In one of the poems performed, students talked about verbal abuse. 

“It started with a word. They called me a nerd. They called me a homosexual. They called me a slow intellectual.” 

Sidney Melendez, of Springfield, said her group wrote a poem that also focused on how words can hurt but that doesn’t make the bullies bigger. 

“It was a good idea because bullying still goes on and it is important to be considerate about other people’s feelings,” she said. 

Melendez said she, too, was a victim of bullying last year when she was 13. She said the problem has abated, in part, because some of those students have left the school for different high schools. 

Darling said he is hoping since the assembly has been greeted with so much enthusiasm by all the classes that bullying will lessen and even end.