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There’s been much media coverage of the suicide of 14-year-old Adriana Kuch, who was viciously assaulted in the hallway of Central Regional High School by four students (who suffered no consequences until the public spoke out) and then killed herself after a video of the beating circulated on TikTok. Last night the local school board held a public meeting; parents and students are furious, describing a district culture of bullying that is ignored by administrators. We know bullying, cyber or otherwise, can emotionally cripple a student. But what effect does this climate have on overall student learning?
Let’s start with this: Central Regional High students are not underprivileged. Seventy percent of students are white, as was Adriana. The percentage of students eligible for free or reduced lunch (how the state determines socio-economic status) is average for New Jersey, about 32%. There are hardly any students who are homeless or English Language Learners. The percentage of students who qualify for special education services is high—about 21%—but Adriana didn’t have disabilities.
Yet student academic growth and achievement is low.
If the testimony of families isn’t enough for you, there’s your proof that something is really wrong at Central Regional High School.
Kids bullied their entire school career suffer academically, say the authors of a 2017 study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology. Jaana Juvonen, a UCLA professor of psychology, says, “we cannot address low achievement in school while ignoring bullying, because the two are frequently linked…”Students who get bullied run the risk of not coming to school, not liking school, perceiving school more negatively and now — based on this study — doing less well academically.” (Note: there is surprisingly little research on this topic, although studies do indicate that cyber-bullying and in-person bullying decreased during Covid school closures.)
So how are students doing at Central Regional? First of all, let’s note that, according to the state database (I’m looking at school year 2018-2019, the last non-Covid year available from the DOE), there were 25 acts of bullying but only one police notification.
Student test scores give us some insight. Statewide in 2018-2019, 59% of 9th graders met proficiency standards in reading; at Central Regional only 26% did. In 10th grade, 58% of students statewide met or exceeded expectations, at Central Regional only 30% did. (The state reading assessments stop after 10th grade because that’s the grade-level required for a NJ high school diploma. Math is harder to compare because students take different math courses in different years.)
What other metrics can we look at to get a sense of student learning at Central Regional? The state also measures growth, as opposed to raw proficiency. In 2016 the “median growth percentile” in reading was 42%, good enough to meet state standards. In 2017 it dropped steeply, down to 28%, and dropped another two points the following. (Math stayed steady.)
- Statewide, in 2018-2019, 72% of students took the SAT. At Central Regional 59% did.
- Statewide, 72% of students were enrolled in a post-secondary institutions 16 months after graduation. At Central Regional, 60.7% were.
- Statewide 12.6% of students were chronically absent (missed 10% or more of school days.) At Central Regional 19% were.
The Central Regional School Board had a meeting last night after accepting the superintendent’s resignation (he’s still getting paid his $190,000 per year) and being notified that Adriana’s family is suing the district. Here are some excerpts of the coverage:
From Max Pizarro at InsiderNJ:
In tears, many students and former students lashed out at the board as they described a culture of incompetence and unaccountability by adults in power who fail to see – or hear – suffering children in their midst…“I used to be a student here,” said Halie Engesser. “I moved away because of gun threats made on me by another student – and now I’m back because Adriana was a friend of mine. I’m wearing her sweatshirt right now. I got the call at seven in the morning. I was in denial. I was supposed to hang out with her last week. She wanted to be a tattoo artist. She never liked any violence.”
From the Star-Ledger:
“I’ve been bullied every day since the seventh grade,” said junior Milo Lugo. “I’ve been told to ignore it, to be the bigger person and just walk away. My mom has called the school on so many occasions, spoken to the superintendent, every single person you can think of.” “It never really stopped,” Lugo said. Others said they left the school to escape bullying.
Rom the New York Times:
In a Facebook post last week, another parent, Racheal O’Dea, said her daughter had been attacked by other girls a year ago at the same high school that Adriana attended, and a video of that incident was posted online by one of the attackers. Even though her daughter reported earlier threats to administrators, Ms. O’Dea said on Facebook and in a lawsuit now pending in state court, they took no action. “The only thing Central Regional does is label these events as ‘hallway disturbances’ and give everyone suspensions, so it does not reach the threshold of needing to involve the police and reports aren’t made,” Ms. O’Dea wrote.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call or text 988 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.