Lessons to be Learned

Bert Kamen, an eighth grade student at Coral Bay Middle School, has been the subject of teasing and harassment by several of his peers since elementary school. Mr. Sam Chambers, science teacher and Nurse Sallee Charley are concerned about Bert and have taken special interest in him.

Bert Kamen, an eighth grade student at Coral Bay Middle School, has been the subject of teasing and harassment by several of his peers since elementary school. Mr. Sam Chambers, science teacher and Nurse Sally Charley are concerned about Bert and have taken special interest in him.

Mr. Chambers’ science class is interrupted by one of his students, Bert Kamen, showing up 30 minutes late to class. Bert quietly speaks with Mr. Chambers about an incident that occurred in the hallway before class began and asks to see Nurse Charley.

Bert Kamen

Slight and underdeveloped, his bed-head untamed, Bert Kamen wore glasses so thick they turned his eyes to beads. The cuffs of his tiny blue jeans fell two inches above his shoes, which sparkled with flashing blue lights when he walked or ran. He talked about dinosaurs in every class, lived with his grandmother, and peed his pants once every two or three weeks. For any student with even the slightest inclination toward bullying, Bert Kamen—small as he was—was the biggest target in Coral Bay Middle School.Almost thirty minutes late, Bert tiptoed into Sam Chambers’ science class. Despite his stature, Bert was a sort of giant in the classroom. Passionate and outspoken—at least in that one classroom—he often lectured the science class about the immorality of stem cell research, the dangers of cloning, and, above all, dinosaurs.

Today, however, Bert was subdued and muffled, even more disheveled than usual. When he spoke, Sam Chambers had to strain just to hear him.

“Mr.—Mr. Chambers?”

“Yes, Bert? What is it?” As Mr. Chambers asked this, he feared he already knew the answer. He asked the class to work on their lab notes and moved to the back of the room, by the door, to speak to Bert in as much privacy as the full classroom could offer.

“Is something wrong, Bert?”

Sam Chambers

Bert looked down at the floor and whispered, “I was just at my locker.” His voice was fragile. “And Jeff bumped into me—it was on purpose—and it made me have to pee, and now my pants—you know.”Mr. Chambers knew. He knew all too well.

“OK, Bert. Don’t worry about class today. Go see the nurse, and I’ll get you the notes during your advisor period at the end of the day.”

As Bert shuffled off down the hallway, shoes sparkling with blue lights, Mr. Chambers felt for the boy, and his strangeness, and wondered what—if anything—he could do to put an end to this bullying.

Bert goes to Nurse Charley’s office. Nurse Charley is distressed by the treatment Bert receives in the hallways . She reflects on how much of his behavior is reminiscent of one of her rescues and ponders what to do about the situation.

Nurse Charley

“Hi Nurse Charley! Mr. Chambers said I should come down here—my pants are—you know.” Bert knew the routine. As the nurse handed him some clean clothes and a box of antiseptic wipes, he scooted into the clinic’s small bathroom.” “Well Bert what happened today?” Bert looked down at the floor and explained that somebody had bumped into him—and it made him pee. Sally asked if it was Jeff Craig and Bert nodded yes.Sally had been working with Bert for close to three years as a professional and friend. When she first met Bert, she sensed a shy, timid young man, not sure of himself and a loner. Unfortunately, things had not changed much for Bert during his middle school years. He had been teased in elementary school and middle school brought even more torment to the small boy. She knew from years working as nurse in a middle school, that young men like Bert were not uncommon, but Bert seemed so special. He reminded her, in some ways, of one of her rescue dogs, Samantha, a beautiful Golden Retriever. She never knew Samantha’s past history, but came to realize that Samantha must have been abused in her previous life. Samantha was a cheerful, yet sometimes despondent girl. Each time she came time in contact with a man or boy, she would cower and urinate, making it impossible for her to be placed in most foster homes. Yet, when Sally met Samantha she felt a connection and understanding with her. She saw a timid, frightened, yet intelligent little dog with such promise. Now, one year later, through patience and lots of work, Samantha is a changed dog and deeply loved by Sally, she has come into her own. She is the first one to greet people at the door and has become the best guard dog and companion animal Sally can remember. In fact, she received first place in dog performance trials just weeks before. Even little Sadie, Sally’s Yorkie, takes direction from Samantha.

Ah, if only working with young people could be so simple, Sally thought. Poor Bert, what kind of future lies ahead for this young man. Yes, Nurse Charley was concerned about Bert. For the past 3 years, she had tried working with Bert and his incontinence issues. She knew it stemmed from a feeling of stress and helplessness, but she had come to realize there was little she could do to change the situation. Yes, there had been parent-teacher meetings and she had been part of those meetings, but Bert’s grandmother, with whom he lived, had been little inspired by any the “solutions” put forth by team members. Bert’s mother rarely showed at team meetings and no one on the team had ever met his father.

“Bert do you remember when I told you that story about Sadie, my little Yorkie, and the Pit Bull that lived with the people two houses down on our street?” Bert nodded. “And do you remember that she was terrified of that big monster?” Bert nodded. “And how did we solve that problem Bert?” “You taught her to stay in your yard where it was safe and he couldn’t get in— Right? But there’s no safe place in the halls I can hide in.” Bert replied.

“So if there’s no safe place, ‘whatta’ you do Bert? Just give up and let Jeff get by with it?”

Bert’s head drops, “I don’t know what to do Nurse Charley! I just don’t!

“Well we’ve gotta get you back to your next class. It’s almost passing period. Go ahead. And Bert– ask your science teacher how little puny people survived all those giant dinosaurs you’re always talking about. If he can’t help you, come back tomorrow during Accelerated Reading, and we’ll figure it out. I’ll write the pass for you right now—and don’t you loose it .” And with that, Nurse Charley gave him a little tap on the shoulder; and out the door he went blue lights flashing.

After Bert left, Sally slumped into her chair and stared out her window into the grassy knoll surrounding the building. She wondered why kids had to be so cruel to each other and frustrated by the weak actions taken by the administration to end such behavior.

Click here for more information on school bullying

Positive Adult-Student Relationships, Trust and Fairness Keys to Reducing Bullying

Click here to view Dr. Dugatkin’s research on Conflict Resolution

Click here to view the reading: Do Animals Have Emotions?

As science class began, Sam Chambers was happy to see Bert eager to ask a question. Unfortunately, he soon realizes it is yet another question about dinosaurs, a topic that obsesses Bert as of late. This time, Sam decides to expand on Bert’s dinosaur question, and he asks his students to volunteer to research the descendents of dinosaurs for extra credit. The lively class discussion that ensues ultimately moves to a discussion of humans, and this provides Sam with an opening to bridge the conversation to Jane Goodall.

Bert Kamen

As students began to fill his classroom, Sam Chambers recalled yesterday’s incident with Bert. He wondered if Bert would show up on time and whether there would be another awkward classroom situation involving Bert. To Sam’s surprise, Bert walked into the room and quickly took his seat. Within seconds, his hand shot up and he began to wave it back and forth, back and forth, back and forth with increasing speed and intensity. Sam had no choice but to call on him, but immediately interjected, “This doesn’t have anything to do with dinosaurs does it?” Bert replied that it didn’t, but it did have something to do with dogs. Great, thought Sam, he’s finally moving on from dinosaur discussions! “Go ahead, Bert, as long as it doesn’t have anything to do with big lizards.” Bert stood up and asked, “How did little puny humans survive all the giant dinosaurs?”

Sam Chambers

Sam couldn’t believe what he heard, Bert was on the dinosaur thing again, but wanting to build his confidence after what happened yesterday, he decided to answer his question. “Well Bert, if you’re a small creature and you live in a forest with really large predators you’ve got to figure out where those predators are 7-24. And then when you get their daily routines down, you stay as far away from them as you can.” Bert seemed slightly confused. “But what if you’ve got to go out? They’ll still kill you and eat you?” To which Sam replied, “Nothing on this tiny ol’ planet will ever be 100% safe Bert, the trick is to plan your life activities as safely as possible, and then follow your plan.” “You’re fooling me, Mr. Chambers, Bert responded, now I think I remember reading that dinosaurs lived long before humans.” “You are correct, Bert, dinosaurs lived throughout the Mesozoic Era, which began 245 million years ago and lasted for 180 million years. It is sometimes called the Age of the Reptiles.” Sam went to the blackboard and drew a short time line that showed dinosaurs’ emergence and ultimate extinction on earth compared to the arrival of humans,” “I didn’t know dinosaurs lived that far back, that picture helps a lot, Mr. Chambers.” “Bert, that’s called a time-line.” “How many of you have seen a time line before?” Sam asked the class. About half the class raised their hands. “O.K., you will all have the opportunity to become super sleuths over the week-end. On Monday, we are going to create a timeline that shows animals from the time of the dinosaurs to humans. You will all have the opportunity to pick an animal that existed before humans and you will be expected to report back to the class on Monday. We will need art detectives, super sleuths and dinosleuths, our dinosaur specialists. You will do research, draw, or both.” “Can I do the Tyrannosaurus Rex, Mr. Chambers?” Bert called out. “Bert,” Sam reminded him, “please remember that you’re not to call out, and yes, everyone will have the opportunity to pick a favorite animal for the time line.”

Bert soon formulated another dinosaur question to ask. “Mr. Chambers, are there descendents of dinosaurs living today?” Sam took this question as a great opportunity to expand the conversation from dinosaurs to more current science and immediately responded, “Yes, Bert, many scientists now believe that birds are descendents of dinosaurs, and crocodiles are descendents of a type of dinosaur.” Laughing immediately overtook the classroom and multiple hands went up. Sam called on one of his more outspoken students, Martin, whose hand was waving like crazy in hopes of being called upon. “Mr. Chambers, you are kidding about the birds, aren’t you?” “No, Martin, I am not. In fact, would you like to do a special presentation about the bird descendents of dinosaurs for Monday’s class? You will be our first dinosleuth.”

Some of you may also want to volunteer to be on our panel of “experts” that will be interviewed by the class about your special animals. Bert quickly raised his hand, “I want to be a dinosleuth, too!” “O.K., Bert, then you can write a short essay about crocodiles and their connection to dinosaurs, and Martin, I would like you to do a report about birds as descendents of dinosaurs. Both of you be prepared to be interviewed by the class about your special animals and be prepared to show where on the timeline your animal first appeared.” “If you would like,” Sam added, “you may ask others in the class to help you to sketch the animals and to compare the similarities and differences.” Immediately, volunteers raised their hands to help Martin. No one volunteered to work with Bert, but Sam quickly added, “Bert, you already know so much about dinosaurs, I don’t think you need a helper.”

Samantha

As Sam finalized the assignments with other students, Maria’s hand went up. “Yes, Maria, do you want to help with the dinosaur research?” “No, Mr. Chambers, but I have a question, if birds and crocodiles were descendents of dinosaurs, then who did we come from?” “Ah, interesting question, Maria. Scientists are not 100% certain of the origins of humans, but many remains of skeletons that resemble both humans and apes, like chimpanzees, have been found. One of the most recent finds is called the Mosaic fossil, 1.9 million years old. If you would like, I will give you some information about the fossil and you could report back to the class as an expert.” “Oh, yes, I would like to research the fossil, can Marcie help me?” “Yes, Maria, she can help you.” Another hand shot up. “Yes, Samantha”, said Sam. “Mr. Chambers, so apes are almost like us?” “Samantha, Chimpanzees share between 95% – 99% of the same genes as humans and between 95%-99% of the social and emotional feelings we have” “Wow, I never knew that!” “Have you ever heard of Jane Goodall, Samantha?” “I think so, Mr. Chambers.”

Chimpanzees

“Tell you what, if you would like, why don’t you and a friend report back to the class about Ms. Goodall and her work with wild chimps and we will then do a class comparison of chimp behaviors and our own behaviors. I am going to put her name on the board so that you all have the correct spelling.” As Sam wrote Jane Goodall’s name on the board, Samantha responded, “O.K. Mr. Chambers, Sue said she would help me.” “And, I’m going to put another chimp expert’s name on the board for another sleuth investigator, the expert’s name is Frans de Waal, you probably have not heard his name before, but he has done many studies of chimps in captivity.”

Jane Goodall

“What about gorillas and monkeys, and those really big red haired monkeys, Mr. Chambers?” Do you mean Orangutans?”, Sam quickly responded. Sam, quickly made additional assignments finishing just as the bell rang while students began to gather their books for the next class. “O.K. class, see you Monday, good luck with your detective work-we are going on an exciting journey next time we meet!” As the students left the room, Sam couldn’t help but hear one student whisper under his breath, “now we have all this work to do because of that little dino nerd!” Sam was concerned, not knowing what steps he should take to protect Bert Yet, little did Sam know the changes his sleuthing assignments would have on his students, the school and himself!

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