West Point, NY Family Fights Against Bullying

by Tiger Schulmann's Vails Gate

On the playground at most schools, there is an abundance of children fighting for a spot on the swings, first down the slide, or who was called out in a game of tag. Most school officials are used to the occasional bickering over objects such as playground balls and jump ropes. Most may even pass off some of the aggressive physical contact as “kids being kids.”

Many adults overlook relevant bullying statistics, and attribute these behaviors to the fact that kids are still just as cruel as when they were growing up and the concept of bullying is acceptable to make children “stronger.” However, they are forgetting something much more important. Society has changed. And although it’s never been “ok” to allow bullying to happen in any era, we now live in a world where bullying doesn’t just happen in a remote location, observed by only a select group of individuals. Nowadays, an unfortunate event in the cafeteria is not limited to simply spoken rumors. Instead it is spread through written gossip via text messaging, videos on YouTube and on the constantly updated newsfeeds of Facebook and Twitter. What was once a time when children could hope to refute the nasty comments made in the locker room, has now become a stain on the image of any child who falls victim to bullying. The impact sustained from these events is extremely detrimental to a child’s self esteem that often is carried into adulthood.

Over 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year.

1 in 4 teachers see nothing wrong with bullying and will only intervene 4% of the time.

Physical bullying increases in elementary school, peaks in middle school and declines in high school. Verbal abuse, on the other hand, remains constant.

Dakota is a vibrant, beautiful 7 year old girl who just entered third grade this fall. Her gorgeous crystal blue eyes and contagious smile convey the innocence and wonder of a typically happy child.  She confidently socializes with bystanders, is extremely well spoken and very bright. She is the type of child that engages with other adults who often find her petite frame and adorable conversations particularly “cute” and pleasant. One would never imagine that Dakota was a victim of bullying.

Smaller than what is age appropriate, Dakota requires growth hormones due to pituitary gland dysfunction. She receives daily injections to assist her body with age appropriate development that would match the mature personality of  typically developing seven year old, as her size is significantly different in comparison to her peers. Dakota is also very young for her grade. She moved to West Point with her family from a school where the cutoff dates were much different, thus advancing her into a grade level where she is almost an entire year younger than her peers.

Dakota has beat bullying through karate at TSMMA Vails Gate
Dakota has beat bullying through karate at TSMMA Vails Gate

Withdrawn and disappointed with her school experience, Dakota gave subtle clue’s that she did not enjoy learning or socializing during her school day. Her mother, April attributed the discontent to being the “new kid” and that soon enough, Dakota would make lots of friends and adjust to her new school. Dakota’s father, Ross is a active duty tactical (TAC) officer in the United States Army and an instructor at West Point Military Academy. With a list of prestigious credentials and a military background worthy of invaluable praise and admiration, no amount of training could prevent the hurt that his daughter endured daily during each school day.

April found out that her daughter was being tormented daily during a casual conference with her teacher. The upsetting news that Dakota was not only the victim of verbal abuse, but physical taunts on the playground came as a shock. But April’s anger was amplified by the lack of concern expressed by the teacher. It was passed off as casual everyday occurrences that were a natural rite of passage for smaller children. Dakota was pushed, stomped and crushed by aggressors much larger and stronger than her. April and Ross took action, as there is absolutely nothing natural about a child being persecuted because of her size, and bullying would not be tolerated.

Dakota was signed up to take a trial class at Tiger Schulmann’s Mixed Mixed Martial Arts (TSMMA) in Vails Gate, NY and has since been training for almost six months. Under the instruction of Sensei Jose Montes, Dakota has found the positive atmosphere and camaraderie on the mat to be a place of warmth and acceptance. She exudes self confidence and boasts that despite her tiny frame and the threat of bullying, she can stand up for herself without fear of consequence. “I was on the bus and I stood up against a boy for bullying my little brother.” April and Ross have also noticed the immense improvement in Dakota’s sense of security. “She knows that she can defend herself now and we are happy to see how self-confident she has become.” says April. Sensei Jose Montes has seen Dakota’s transformation flourish since she has been training. “She is focused, determined and such a delight to have in my class. She is always willing to learn and I am confident in her ability to protect herself against bullying.”

Ross and April Pixler take to time to join their daughter, Dakota in the fight against bullying.
Ross and April Pixler take to time to join their daughter, Dakota in the fight against bullying.

It is unfortunate that bullying is still so prevalent in our school systems, and especially that the educators we trust to teach our kids let bullying go unnoticed at times. Programs like TSMMA at Vails Gate, NY continue to teach children the skills needed to defend themselves in the event they are bullied, as well as the proper strategies to confront situations and handle them passively before they become physical. Children who have been the victims of bullying also learn how to cope with the situation should it arise, as bullying in any form can be a stressful and scary experience.

April and Ross have since taken Sensei Montes’ Mother’s Day and Father’s Day classes at the Vails Gate school and now join the ranks within the adult classes on a weekly basis. They have come to appreciate the martial arts experience and share the benefits that their daughter has received through training. As they continue to develop their skills, they will also develop a family tradition of sharing the gift of security, confidence, and improved health……a gift that is absolutely priceless.

By Lauren Rose