TRAVERSE CITY — West Middle School wasn’t Dustin Henrichs’ favorite place.
Every day, other students picked on him, called him fat, nerd, loser, and shoved him around. Some even suggested he kill himself, he said.
“I was a zombie,” Henrichs said. “I would go to school and I wouldn’t talk, I wouldn’t really feel anything. I would come home and my parents would wonder what’s wrong and I just wouldn’t have anything to say because I wouldn’t really want to talk about it.”
“He started to build a wall to protect himself, and it never really came down,” said Dustin’s mother, Kari Henrichs.
Dustin Henrichs now is a senior at West Senior High School. He believes he has a better handle on bullying that’s long plagued him.
“I’ve always been picked on; it’s one of those things I’ve come to accept. I just don’t pay attention to it anymore,” Henrichs said.
Traverse City Area Public Schools administrators hope students no longer will have to face and accept such behavior from others. They’re rolling out a new anti-bullying program this month that aims to create a better environment and empowers teachers to follow through with bullying complaints.
TCAPS administrators worked for more than a year to implement the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. The program takes a holistic approach to tackling bullying by involving students, teachers and community members.
School administrators say it’s considered to be the top such program in the country, and based on Olweus’ own survey results, the program reduces reported incidents of bullying between 20 and 70 percent in schools.
It’s also designed to empower bystanders to be comfortable when they disrupt a bullying incident.
“We are really seeking to get those bystanders involved and be more proactive in reporting it, and the staff in dealing with it,” said Ryan Ranger, assistant principal at Traverse City West Middle School.