Roseburg man fights to stop school bullying

ROSEBURG — When Jim Knapp began the seventh grade at a new school, he was soon running home every day when the last bell rang — not because he was excited to be free of teachers and textbooks, but because he was terrified of the boys who tormented him in the hallways.

"My very first day of school I was grabbed by the back of my pants in the bathroom, thrown into a mirror and they tried to throw my books into the toilet," Knapp said.

Now, 50 years later, Knapp, a retired Roseburg educator, is trying to put an end to bullying.

In 2006, he starting writing a bully prevention newsletter which now has international subscribers via the Internet.

That same year he published his first novel, "Bobby's Story," based on his childhood as a victim of bullying. The book has been assigned in classrooms around the country.

More recently, Knapp has taken his campaign to Douglas County school districts to raise awareness and prevent the type of violence that still haunts him.

When his family's orchard in Payette, Idaho, went under, Knapp's parents lost everything. To get back on their feet, the family moved in 1960 to Boise, a bigger city with more opportunities. But Knapp, an only child, said he wasn't accepted by his new peers and was looked down upon by his teachers because of his family's economic status.

"I had a teacher say to me, 'You will never amount to anything because you're poor,' " he said.

His classmates pointed and laughed at his old, worn clothes. Three boys in particular, two ninth-graders and a seventh-grader, physically and verbally intimidated him for sport, he said.

Knapp, who was only 11 years old because he started school a year early, said his biggest mistake was never telling anyone what was happening to him.

"I never shared with my parents. They were struggling so hard to keep us alive," he said. "They didn't need another problem."

He continued to be bullied until he grew bigger and his tormentors graduated.

"I was a small kid until I was 16," said Knapp, who is now just over 6 feet. "The emotions involved with being bullied last forever though. I can still remember being humiliated."

Knapp said even though he outgrew his bullies, he never tolerated it happening to anyone else.

His passion for the cause led him to a career in education. Since retiring, he has devoted his time to writing and speaking to teachers, students and parents about bullying.

Bullying can lead to depression and suicide and has been in the headlines in the past year across the country. Several teenage suicides have been blamed on nonstop verbal and physical abuse from peers.

In Massachusetts, three 16-year-old girls are being charged with bullying a classmate, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, so relentlessly that she hanged herself in January, according to The Associated Press.

Another teen, 13-year-old Asher Brown of Texas, was "bullied to death," the boy's parents told the Houston Chronicle, after he shot himself in September. His family said he was picked on for his small size, his religion and because he did not wear designer clothes and shoes. Kids also accused him of being gay.

Knapp said he always wondered what he was doing to deserve the bullying, and it took him a long time to realize it wasn't his fault.

"That's what I tell kids: 'It isn't about you, it's about them.' "

It's important for parents to take the responsibility to be prevent bullying and prepare their kids to fit in, he said.

Knapp advised parents to see that their children dress and act appropriately, he said. "Teach your kids compassion, and teach your kids to talk to an adult if they need help."

Parents also should be aware that the signs indicating a child is being bullied include being withdrawn, a decline in confidence and not wanting to go to school.

Glide School District Superintendent Don Schrader brought Knapp in to speak to the entire staff, including bus drivers, about preventing bullying.

"He's really helped unify the district and helped us to try and be bully-free," Schrader said.

There have been very few incidents since Knapp's districtwide talk, said Schrader, who is also the middle school principal. "We're not seeing as much of it."

Knapp also visited with parents and students during parents' night.

Schrader said he hopes kids will learn from Knapp's story that bullying is unacceptable. "If someone is standing around and they see it happen, maybe they won't just stand there. Maybe they'll stop it or get an adult."

Knapp has also made presentations, which he does free of charge, at elementary schools in Winchester, Winston and Reedsport, as well as two schools in Coos Bay and three schools in Arizona.

Since writing "Bobby's Story," Knapp has written three mystery and adventure novels for young adults. He is taking a break from speaking to schools to write his fifth book.

Share This Story