Forest Lake’s Jake Ross, 11, received a $1,000 scholarship for making a positive impact in his community through volunteering.
The Kohl’s Cares Scholarship Program chose Ross from more than 35,000 applicants based on initiative, leadership, generosity and project outcome. Nearly 200 youth volunteers were awarded $1,000 scholarships and qualified for $10,000 national scholarships. Since the program began in 2001, Kohl’s has awarded 19,000 winners with $3.9 million in scholarships and prizes.
After repeatedly being bullied in school, and in an effort to make sure other children don’t suffer similar abuse, Ross advocated for new legislation. The fifth-grade student testified at three Minnesota State Capitol legislative hearings to urge passage of the “Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act,” a comprehensive anti-bullying bill. He gave his personal testimony in February at the House Education Policy Committee hearing, in March at the Senate Education Committee hearing, and in May at the Senate Finance Committee hearing.
After nine committee hearings, the bill passed in the House but died in the Senate. Supporters plan to reintroduce the bill at the capitol when the session resumes in February 2014.
To read the bill, go online to www.senate.mn and enter 783 in the “get bill info” box.
Ross also wrote a guest column for the April 18 issue of the Forest Lake Times. During second grade, Ross wrote, he was hit and pushed around, his belongings were stolen and he received verbal threats. Ross was attending a local school at the time.
After second grade he moved to Scandia Elementary (part of Forest Lake District 831), which uses the Olweus Program to prevent bullying.
The Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act, he wrote, would give Minnesota one of the strongest anti-bullying school laws in the U.S.
“I want to help protect students in Minnesota from bullying because I know what it’s like, and I don’t want it to happen to anyone,” he wrote.
In May, Ross was named “Up-Stander of the Week” by The Bully Project, a national bullying prevention organization.
Jake’s story: An extract from his testimony to legislative committees
When I was 7 years old and in second grade, I was the victim of on-going bullying by two students at the elementary school I then attended.
I was hit repeatedly in the hallways and other places when my teacher wasn’t looking. The boys did this because they thought it was funny.
These same boys pushed me around every day after school. They took my backpack and other belongings.
On Feb. 2, 2010, while I was eating lunch at our assigned classroom table in the cafeteria, one of the bullying students stood up at the lunch table and said very loudly, “Who’s going to help me beat up Jake today?”
Following lunch, outside at recess, I was cornered and attacked, pushed to the ground up to 20 times. I tried to get away but could not. When the recess whistle finally blew and everyone went inside, the student who attacked me yelled repeatedly, “I’m going to kill you if you tell anyone! I’m going to kill you tomorrow!”
The day after I was attacked, with my mom’s encouragement, I switched to the other table to eat lunch, the table where the girls ate. The boy who had attacked me said very loudly to everyone, “Look—Jake’s a girl!”
Going to school was hard for me because I didn’t know what would happen. My mom reported these things to the school officials. The only consequence was the two boys who admitted hurting me repeatedly had to apologize. No other school consequences occurred, even though the bullying continued.
My mom asked the school director to move the boys to a different cafeteria table. The director told my mom, “No. We can’t move these boys to another place at lunch, because what about those kids they would then sit by?” I was forced to sit by the boys who bullied me every day.
My mom asked to see the school’s policy and procedures for bullying. After about 10 minutes of searching, the director found the school’s written bullying policy, a couple-sentence statement. The policy did not list any procedures for what to do if bullying occurs. My mom was told, “There are no procedures, no list of consequences for bullying here.”
She asked, “How will you ensure a safe learning environment for our son?” The answer was, “I can’t help you. I can’t tell you. Not everyone shares the same values as you.”
My mom filled out harassment and violence reporting forms for several incidents, but the school administration did not investigate. My parents took me and my younger sister out of this school.