In a nation where nearly half of all teenagers report being bullied at some point, one couple is offering a unique solution.
After hearing the story of Simone Grice, a bullied schoolgirl who committed suicide, 94-year-old Fred Morgan and his wife, Vivian, decided in 2012 to convert their 10-bedroom home in Warwick, England into a private school for children who have undergone severe bullying.
The students, aged between 11 and 16, typically spend around a year at the Northleigh House School studying English, math, and science, taught by a mainly part-time staff of 22. Activities such as horseback-riding and piano lessons are also available for those interested.
As of today, the Morgans say they have helped 20 troubled students, around half of whom had attempted suicide at some point prior to their enrollment. Many were referred to the Northleigh House School after being deemed too depressed to function at their local state school.
“When they leave here, they’re like normal happy, laughing teenagers, and they’ve caught up on their work,” said Mrs. Morgan to the Telegraph. “We had one young girl who had tried to throw herself under a bus. She’s really happy and at college in Leicester now. To think that she may have died is terrible.”
As the issue of bullying becomes increasingly understood as a serious problem rather than simply a schoolyard rite of passage, more and more parents are seeking alternatives to mainstream education settings for their bullied children. Some choose to homeschool; others enroll in online schools, such as the Ohio Virtual Academy, a charter school affiliated with the national education company K12.
“Sometimes it takes these students a little bit to earn trust back,” said Kristin Stewart, senior head of the Ohio Virtual Academy, to the Dayton Daily News. “They can approach getting back to school safely because they’re in their homes and they’re feeling safe. They can move at their own pace.”
While these alternatives have undoubtedly spared many children additional suffering, they have caused some adults to question whether children today are too sensitive. Wouldn’t it be better for the child’s self esteem to confront the bully, they argue, rather than running away?
Some experts say no. Telling bullying victims to “just fight back” is largely unhelpful, writes Carrie Goldman, the author of "Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear," in an op-ed for CNN.
“The truth is that there are many bullying situations in which the victim cannot simply beat up the bully and end the problem,” Goldman writes. “The very nature of bullying renders victims fearful, frozen and incapable of defending themselves.”
However, Goldman's argument that kids sometimes cannot defend themselves does not ring true to parenting coach Nancy Prisby. Like some other parents and bullying experts she views switching schools as a last resort. There are lessons to be learning in defending oneself against aggressive classmates and parents may be able to help their children learn them, she urges.
“Oftentimes, out of the best intentions, we try to shield our children from emotional pain. Some of you may find my next statement surprising: We should want our children to feel some emotional pain when they are in our homes,” says Ms. Prisby in a New York Times blog post. “When children are allowed to feel emotional pain while we are available as parents to support and teach them, they become more resilient.”