A KWWL 2-PART SPECIAL REPORT: According to Students - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

A KWWL 2-PART SPECIAL REPORT: According to Students

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After the most recent school shooting, like many of you, it stuck in my mind for weeks.  As the mom of a very young daughter, events like this terrify me, as I think of what school will be like for her in 5, 10, 15 years.  It got me to thinking, what's really happening in our schools these days?  More so, how are students feeling about certain things?  Can they be themselves?  Do they feel safe at school?  How bad is bullying at their school right now?

With the help of the Waterloo Community School District, a group of juniors and seniors from both Waterloo East and Waterloo West sat down with me recently, to let me in on what's going on, according to students.

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Abby: Do you worry about school shootings when you go to school everyday?
"No, I don't worry about it.  But there are times where I'll be sitting in a group of my friends and they'll make jokes about other students and say 'he's the next school shooter.'  It's not necessarily like shame on them, it's more they don't understand the magnitude of the problem." - Jessica,17
"I feel very safe at the school we go to because of the precautions that have been taken." - Parker, 18

Abby: Is there anything you have ever thought personally would make you feel a little safer at school?
"You can bring in a knife, a gun, pepper spray - they won't know because it'll be in your book bag.  If we were to bring in metal detectors and have them screen your backpacks and walk through a metal detector.  It sounds extreme, but in light of recent events, it seems necessary." - Jessica,17
"Guns aren't the only way to hurt someone.  If someone wants to hurt someone else, there are many ways you can do it." - Carlie, 17

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Abby: Drug use. Simple question - is this an issue?
"A very big issue."

Abby: Is it pushed under the rug, is it not talked about?
"It's talked about in elementary school because they do the drug-free week.  The repetition of what we're hearing, the meaning is lost as we get older." - Elizabeth, 17
"In high school, it's stressed less, and that's where you're most tempted to do things like that." - Shanda, 17

Abby: Can you give me names of drugs you hear in the hallway?
"Weed." Is weed the thing right now?  "Xanax, that's another."

Abby: Is it easy to get access to these things?  
"I feel like it's relatively easy, yeah.  I do believe there's selling between peers because it's like sheet mentality; if a large group is doing weed or any other type of drug, someone else might feel the pressure to doing it as well." - Jessica,17

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Abby: Next topic - What's trending online?  Are there secret online things you guys do that your parents have no idea about?

"I apologize to everyone watching this but, yes, there has been a really big increase in personal accounts that are private to only a certain group of people. " - Parker, 18
"People have spam accounts and then they have Finstas." 
Abby: Frinstas?
"Finstas.  Fake Instagram."
"A spam account is where you post all your embarrassing pictures and stupid things, and then your Finsta is private, and people post pictures of them smoking weed and stuff like that." - Shanda, 17

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Acceptance.  Do you feel like you can be yourself, or do you feel like you have to mold into what everyone expects you to be?
"Some classes I feel much more like myself.  Other ones, I am a completely different person, and I hate it.  When I walk around in the hallway, I'm not myself.  And that is not to put any blame on the school or anything like that.  It is just a different world, being in a high school with large amounts of people around you and different opinions.  You do kind of have to follow a certain order." - Parker, 18
Abby: To fit in?
"Not even to fit in, to blend in."
"You can pretty much be whoever you are but, as Parker said, when you're walking around in the halls you usually tend to stay a little more quiet because you kind of want to blend in." - Daniel, 18
"Along with blending in, I think it's something people want to do because of the judgement.  There's just so much judgement out there, and it's kind of all in your mental strength.  Are you able to take that judgment if somebody is going to give it to you?" - Carlie, 17

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Abby: Finally, I asked you, the viewer, on our Facebook page what you wanted to know from current students.  Overwhelmingly, the comments focused on bullying.
Why do you think in general people bully?
"When someone bullies another person it makes them feel better, especially if they can make it into a situation where everybody else is laughing with that person at someone.  Because then it kind of elevates them and makes them feel powerful." - Jessica,17
"I think it makes people feel better in the fact that it's like an act of revenge.  I don't see people going up and making fun of a random person.  It's somebody they have had something happen with before." - Shelby, 17
Abby: Does anybody ever step in, or is there too much fear there?  
"I've had that happen to me.  I did that, I did go to a counselor.  One of the counselor's answers was that we just shouldn't talk to each other.  That was how it ended.  I also do know of other situations where people have been bullied where they went to an administrator and things did happen.  So it's not everybody, and it's not every situation that 'Oh, administrators are never gonna do anything, it never happens.' Cause that's not the truth." - Carlie, 17
"I think it's hard for them to do anything about it because, if you don't have anyone to come with you  and vouch for you, they don't have any evidence." - Shanda, 17

Abby: Anybody else?  Just any general thoughts on bullying.
"Bullying is anything that makes someone feel uncomfortable and unaccepted, and makes them feel less than who they are." - Jessica,17

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Outside of the stories that air Tuesday and Thursday on KWWL News at 10, here are some additional questions the students answered.  I spoke with them for almost an hour.  Some of these questions were submitted by viewers when I asked on our Facebook page what you, the viewer, would like to know from current high schoolers.

Is bullying being done more in person or online?

When you think of bullying, a common conception would be someone going up and throwing their books or saying something to their face.  But it can also be, like, indirectly.  Whether you're ostricizing them, or blurting out what they did, trying to make everyone else laugh about it.  Or even not including them in something." - Jessica, 17

"That's how I see it the most is less of someone directly badmouthing someone to their face.  It is overhearing other conversations, hearing rumors that come back to you about yourself.  That's kind of the bigger aspect that I personally see is finding out about something that someone said about you later." - Parker, 18

I think today it's more talking about behind their back because of all the different social media platforms that are out there.  Because, like, group chats are possible now, where if you're not physically with a group of people you can still be talking to them about other people.  Obviously that's not necessarily what it is, but that's what it can be." - Elizabeth, 17

Viewer question: How many of the students are really learning anything?  I hear so many teens, including my own, saying they have loads of free time, time on their phones, time on their tablets, etc.

"We are in the IB (International Baccalaureate) program, so it's the hardest workload.  But I have heard from many students that they have it easy.  You get out what you put in." - Carlie, 17

Viewer question: It's known that school shooters are outcasts.  I've yet to hear one that was included and had tons of friends.  What are students doing to make them feel included?

"In my lunch shift, there was a kid who would be by himself and eat his lunch on the floor.  People invited him, but he just didn't want to hang with anyone." - Elizabeth, 17

"I don't think calling them outcasts helps anything.  I've seen students do walk-outs on behalf of these "outcasts," and we shouldn't have to schedule days to be nice to people." - Carlie, 17

"It's the labeling.  And that goes beyond calling people "outcasts."  It's a large problem." - Jessica, 17

If there was one thing you could change about your school, what would it be?

"Favoritism." - Carlie, 17

Viewer question: Are there pressures from your peers to be in a relationship?

"Not really.  If there is, it goes both ways.  To be in or out of one." - Jessica,17

Do you reach out to parents/friends/teachers when you feel unhappy about something?

"I let it simmer.  The "I'll get over it" mentality.  It will be alright, so I just let it happen." - Parker, 18

What's the most important thing on your mind right at this moment?

"Getting all of the end of the year stuff done for IB (International Baccalaureate) program." - Parker, 18

"Homework and scholarships." - Jessica, 17

"College and the IB tests coming up in a month." - Daniel, 18

Viewer question: What are your values?

"Don't let people take advantage of you." - Shanda, 17

Yes, don't let people take advantage of you." - Jessica, 17

"Don't be afraid to be yourself." - Carlie, 17

"Focus on what you want for your future rather than just trying to completely live in the now." - Shelby, 17

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