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Born and raised in the town of Inez, Kentucky located in the Appalachian region and bordering the bible belt. I spent all of my childhood and most of my adult life in that town, but it was hard to really consider it home or a place worth staying to build a life. There were no jobs nor any opportunities to make a living doing the things I love. After several years working retail jobs and making meager paychecks, I decided to pack up and move out of state to make a life for myself and those close to me.
Let's have a chat, shall we? We all hear the anti-bullying organizations saying how much they will crack down on bullying, how schools are putting a zero tolerance policy in place, and how teachers will be more direct in dealing with bullies. Do these tactics even work? Is bully even the right word? It makes it sound so trivial. When you hear the word “bully”, the image you conjure up in your brain is one of a tall middle schooler shaking you down for lunch money. Not of someone who harasses you day in and day out for every little thing you do. Someone who makes your academic life a living nightmare solely depending on what you are interested in and/or what you look like. Overweight? Look forward to people calling you fatty for years simply because the one person who did it has more friends than you. Like to draw? If you are seated next to anyone who has the slightest amount of hate for you, be prepared to block any so-called “accidental” pencil markings heading your way. Band? Maybe you can try to lessen the blows a bit by not trying out for marching. Combine all that and you're a walking, talking bulls-eye. At this moment, I have been out of high school for 6 years. While high school was indeed hell, the worst experiences I've had with “bullies” happened in middle school. May sound like a cliché, but gym class really can end up as a perfect opportunity for a “bully” to act. What is not cliché is while most of the class is running around barefoot on the court under the ever so vigilant gym teacher who is sitting in the corner with their nose in their phone, the “bullies” make their way to the locker room where they pour a cup of their own piss onto your tennis shoes. You find out at the end of class in the locker room along with everyone else and the only two people who are laughing at you. Despite being found out, they claim they did not do it so you go home with your shoes in a plastic bag like nothing ever happened. But as you know, one child out of a whole class walking out of the gym and onto the bus with their shoes in a bag is not a cause for any concern by a teacher. Let's fast forward a bit; my family moves to another state in my last year of middle school. I, of course, I am ecstatic at the idea of leaving my old middle school life behind and start fresh. So what happens? Singled out by a girl with a posse due to my weight issues and when I reach my limit, I make it physical and push her. Once again, this happened during a gym class. While there was a teacher present, the only thing they did was tell us to stop and to get back to our activities. After that class, the girl decided to tell everyone that, instead of a push, I touched her breasts. It spread like wildfire and for the next few weeks, nearly every girl I passed in the hall crossed her arms over her chest and/or called me a lesbian. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a lesbian, but the fact is that I was being called something I was not and accused of something I did not do. When classes were over in this school, students walked to their next class in lines; teachers standing guard by their doors. Absolute negligence is the only reason something like this could have gone without action. It did go one step further with my mother arriving at the school and having a conversation with the guidance counselor about it, but the other girl was never brought in for the conversation. I don't recall much after that since my family moved back to our home state. From then on it was mainly being called fat; being asked out as a joke, and having multiple drawings messed with or destroyed for my four years of high school. Where am I going with all of this? Zero tolerance policies only work when the school has hired staff who actually care about the students, their mental well-being, and who continue to do so. During my time in the two middle schools and one high school I have attended, not a single teacher had interfered in a considerable way in any instances involving “bullies”. I get it, working with dozens of children for most of your days gets exhausting and annoying. But you have a duty to perform, not only as an educational provider, but as a caregiver. This sort of harassment cannot be completely avoided. But when it does happen and you notice it, or a child comes to you for help, the correct response is not simply “Knock it off and get back to your seat.” Telling that to students does not mean nothing will ever happen again after that or that something else between them is not going on. Harassment needs to be stopped at the source, which is informing the parents and having them take the action necessary to correct their child's behavior. Now not every parent is going to do this since every now and then you have those that believe their child can do no wrong, but the ones who do will make a greater impact in the nature of harassment and ending the instances nearly as soon as they arise.
Appalachia is considered one of the most uneducated and poverty-ridden regions of the United States, and I was born in the middle of it. A minuscule town by the name of Inez located in Martin County, Kentucky, that barely made it onto the map. At first glance, one can tell this town is on the brink of abandonment and total collapse. For example, Main Street should be a bustling center of every town. But ours is composed of run down, boarded up buildings festering asbestos and with no money remaining in the town budget to fix them, or replace them with buildings that would be more suited for commercial purposes, the remnants of the glory days of the town are left to crumble away into nothing but dusty piles of bricks. The failing economy of the town and dwindling jobs aided in keeping Martin County in such a shabby state. Once the days of coal mining were over, it became much harder for citizens to find work. The ones who have jobs in town holding onto them as long as they can to avoid the practically nonexistent job market while others not so lucky turn to finding work both out of town and out of state. Those unable to work due to disabilities caused by working in the mines still fighting up to this day for compensation. For those who have a calling that does not include healthcare, retail, or heating and cooling installation, there is nothing for you here. Even if you manage to get a job in one of these fields, you are still not guaranteed a quality life. As of 2016, the percentage of poverty in Martin County stood at 39.3% and if the town continues with no incoming businesses and new opportunities for the citizens to make a living, that number will only increase. Some try to improve the economic situation by opening mom-and-pop shops. However, they inevitably fail due to the population trying to make the most of their money from deals at companies such as Walmart or Save-A-Lot. With small shops on a budget trying both to bring in products and make a profit, they simply cannot keep up with such large competition. Along with companies looking at the small town with even smaller pockets as a risk, the town simply does not stand much of a chance to attract new businesses. The town money issues also did nothing to improve the school systems. In fact, one of my most prominent memories from high school is sitting at my scratched up desk and having to peel apart the pages of a musty old textbook glued together with someone's dip spit. New textbooks were a rare occurrence and only happened a couple of times for select classes. The Sheldon Clark High School that was located in Inez closed down in 2013 due to structural damage from the road crew blasting through the hill next to it in order to carve a new road out of town to bigger cities. The school itself was founded in 1972; so it had seen a fair share of hardship being a place of education for generations of teens and blasting so close to such an old building simply hastened the deterioration. While a new road to bigger cities could potentially bring in more business, as of August 2018, the road itself remains uncompleted. Leaving the youth without a proper high school for five years and counting. A new high school is being built, but until completion, Martin County youth will have to settle for getting their high school education at the former middle school. The middle school students getting their education from Warfield Middle School; the neighboring middle school. According to the census bureau, a mere 6.3% of people in Martin County, 25 years or older, hold a Bachelor's degree or higher. With it already being so low, depriving the youth of a strong education could further damage their ability to acquire a college degree which drastically inhibits the possibility of acquiring a good job. It has long been said that Kentucky struggles with problems in the education system and poverty. While I wish I could be writing of the more positive traits of the area, these issues are substantial and crippling to the population desperately trying to make ends meet. Including myself who opted to move out of the state in search of a more fulfilling life. For anything to improve in this part of Appalachia, I believe it to be essential that the state recognizes these issues and work more towards remedying them if they want their small towns to stand a chance of survival. To many wanting to make an honest living and be happy doing it, it is not worth staying in an area that rarely has good paying jobs. Often, those faced with a poverty-stricken lifestyle and have no way out are prone to peddling drugs in order to pay the bills or using them as an escape from their situation which creates the prevalent drug problem. At the moment, those still facing these problems in the state can only hope that the situation makes a change for the better and small towns like Inez can start getting back on their feet and begin offering people a more pleasant living experience.