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Posts Tagged ‘Suicide’

Three sickening words: teens, bullying and suicide

In behavior, children, Crime, culture, domestic life, education, life, news, parenting, Technology, US on October 17, 2013 at 12:03 am

By Caitlin Kelly

English: Bullying on IRFE in March 5, 2007, th...

English: Bullying on IRFE in March 5, 2007, the first class day. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s shocking and depressing that so many young people, struggling with their sexuality, identity, self-confidence and future wonder how they’ll even survive the next few hours — bullied 24/7 by peers whose toxicity is relentless, vicious, heartless and widespread.

Yesterday’s New York Times carried two stories about the aftermath of teens who killed themselves after having been bullied, one about Joe Bell, the father of 15-year-old  Jadin Bell,who committed suicide, who was struck and killed as he walked across the U.S. to draw awareness to the issue, the other about two girls, 12 and 14 (WTH?) arrested in Florida for their behavior after their bullying led to the suicide of Rebecca Ann Sedwick:

In Internet shorthand it began “Yes, ik” — I know — “I bullied Rebecca
nd she killed herself.” The writer concluded that she didn’t care, using
an obscenity to make the point and a heart as a perverse flourish. Five
weeks ago, Rebecca Ann Sedwick, a seventh grader in Lakeland in central
Florida, jumped to her death from an abandoned cement factory silo
after enduring a year, on and off, of face-to-face and online bullying.

The Facebook post, Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County said, was so
offensive that he decided to move forward with the arrest immediately
rather than continue to gather evidence. With a probable cause affidavit
in hand, he sent his deputies Monday night to arrest two girls, calling
them the “primary harassers.” The first, a 14-year-old, is the one who
posted the comment Saturday, he said. The second is her friend, and
Rebecca’s former best friend, a 12-year-old.

Both were charged with aggravated stalking, a third-degree felony and will be processed through the juvenile court system.

What on earth is driving these wretched children to torment one another to death?

“As a child, I can remember sticks and stones can break your bones but
words will never hurt you,” the sheriff said. “Today, words stick
because they are printed and they are there forever.”

I’ve blogged about this before and will likely return to it because, as someone badly bullied in high school for three years, I’ve lived this firsthand. It was long before the Internet, so my bullying was only daily, public and within the physical confines of my Toronto high school.

I arrived at my school at 14, reeling from the sudden move into my father’s home after seven years with my mother; arriving halfway through the year into a group of people who had all grown up together in neighborhood schools and a girl both plagued with acne and intellectual confidence.

Bad combo.

I was nicknamed Doglin, barked at in the hallways and a dog biscuit was laid on my desk. Three boys spent a lot of time and energy making sure I was as miserable as they could possibly make me.

Thank heaven for dear friends, male and female, who kept me going. Thank heaven for winning awards for my writing, which buoyed my confidence. Thank heaven for a teen quiz show (then hosted by Jeopardy’s host Alex Trebek) which I competed on two years in a row, taking our school to the semi-finals.

But once bullied, scarred for life.

Here’s my USA Today essay about it.

If you have children you hope to protect from bullying, here’s a link to a free webinar being offered Thursday October 17 at 8pm EST, 5pm PT.

Have you — or you kids — been bullied?

Are you working to prevent teen bullying?

They Taped Their Roommate And Outed Him On The Internet. Now He’s Dead.

In behavior, Crime, education, Media, men, news, parenting, politics on September 30, 2010 at 11:48 am
George Washington Bridge, spanning the Hudson ...

Image via Wikipedia

Here’s the price of intolerance — death:

“Had he been in bed with a woman, this would not have happened,” said Lauren Felton, 21, of Warren. “He wouldn’t have been outed via an online broadcast and his privacy would have been respected and he might still have his life.”

Gay rights groups say Tyler Clementi’s suicide makes him a national example of a problem they are increasingly working to combat: young people who kill themselves after being tormented over their sexuality.

A lawyer for Clementi’s family confirmed Wednesday that he had jumped off the George Washington Bridge last week. Police recovered a man’s body Wednesday afternoon in the Hudson River just north of the bridge, and authorities were trying to determine if it was Clementi’s.

Clementi’s roommate, Dhraun Ravi, and fellow Rutgers freshman Molly Wei, both 18, have been charged with invading Clementi’s privacy. Middlesex County prosecutors say the pair used a webcam to surreptitiously transmit a live image of Clementi having sex on Sept. 19 and that Ravi tried to webcast a second encounter on Sept. 21, the day before Clementi’s suicide.

The death of a Rutgers University freshman stirred outrage and remorse on campus from classmates who wished they could have stopped the teen from jumping off a bridge last week after a recording of him having a sexual encounter with a man was broadcast online.

Words fail me on this one.

Bullied, Literally, To Death

In behavior, business, culture, Media, men, US on August 24, 2010 at 1:09 pm
at least i'm not a bully
Image by *nimil* via Flickr

Here’s a story to chill your blood — a boss whose bullying drove an employee to suicide:

The suicide of the managing editor at an Ellies-winning literary magazine late last month has sparked an investigation into alleged bullying by its editor — and is putting the publication’s long-term future in serious doubt.

Kevin Morrissey, the 52-year-old managing editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, took his own life on July 30. According to his family and several VQR staffers, in the weeks leading up to his death, Morrissey (pictured, right) had been subjected to bullying by his boss, 38-year-old editor-in-chief Ted Genoways (pictured, left).

“It was a toxic environment for Kevin,” VQR Web editor Waldo Jaquith told NBC News. “Ted’s treatment of Kevin during the last few weeks of his life was just egregious.”

And Genoways’ treatment of Kevin on the day of his death appeared to push Morrissey over the edge.

Shortly before 10 a.m. on July 30, Genoways sent an e-mail to Morrissey “accusing him of jeopardizing the life of a writer,” according to one account reported by The Hook, a local newsweekly. At 11:30 a.m., Morrissey called 911 to report a shooting near a coal tower in Charlottesville, Virginia. When police arrived, they found Morrissey dead, the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

None of this surprises me at all. I’ve met some of the most toxic, brutal people in my life in journalism — all of them in positions of power:

The female trade magazine editor who routinely shouted abuse at everyone, even across a room filled with cubicles. Including curses.

The trade magazine publisher who spent his days, earning $150,000 in 1996, writing freelance articles for his magazines’ competitor. The one who stood in my office, shrieking at me like a five-year-old.

The newspaper photo editor, notorious in our city for his behavior, who shouted at me: “Your simple questions are the most complicated I’ve heard in 30 years.”

No point continuing.

If you have never been bullied at work, thank your god(s.) If you have, you know what an utter hell it is.

Not everyone who is bullied will choose to kill themself. But those who live are deeply scarred by it, their self-confidence shattered. It’s not something you quickly or easily shrug off. In a recession, who will quit even the most vicious of workplaces?

We all live in a bully culture. “You’re fired!”, sneered publicly, is the tagline of a popular television show. “Wipeout” shows people slipping, sliding and falling off an obstacle course.

It has to stop. It never will.

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When Your Child Needs A 'Rough Stone': Coping With Bullying, Sadness And Loss

In behavior, education on May 1, 2010 at 8:52 am
Image taken by me on March 5, 2007.

Image via Wikipedia

Fellow True/Slanter Bob Cook has been writing on school-based cruelty as well and something he said hit me hard — that comments on this (not here at T/S, interestingly) tend to sneer at anyone who finds bullying unacceptable. They insist it’s natural, normal, that “kids will be kids.”

Well, barracudas and piranhas will also shred your flesh, but that’s in their nature. It is the specific task of parents, teachers and other adult role models to ensure that the nastiest of children do not remain feral, vicious animals by not being told their behavior is wrong.

Those who shirk that duty, certainly while collecting pay and healthy pensions funded by our taxes, need to understand their responsibilities. If not, and a suicide is the result of such bullying, they must be criminally liable. Turning a blind eye, remaining passive, is not an option.

I am constantly shocked that bullying, (aka cruelty, abuse, unkindness), is so often described as simply a part of growing up, something we should all just “suck up” as part of becoming a Teflon-skinned adolescent or functioning adult. Great! Now we can all be cruel/wounded adults. There’s a terrific lesson.

There is no justification for deliberate acts of cruelty. Most important — and overlooked — there is no acceptable way to calibrate what is truly hurtful to someone else. This is the height of arrogance. Just because you or your kids could handle it (really?), doesn’t mean someone else has the emotional resources, or other sources of kindness and comfort or the powerful, necessary defense mechanisms to reframe their tormentors as pathetic scum.

Even the tiniest children can arrive at school — whether the bully or his/her victims — from a home already filled with toxicity: rage, alcoholism, drug abuse, incest, chronic poverty, terminal illness, madness. Kids are taught to keep their feelings private, to “be a man”, not to open up.

One of my favorite writers in the world, Susie Boyt, a columnist for the Financial Times, recently wrote a beautiful column suggesting a simple, elegant solution. Yet it is one that relies on a deep trust in others’ empathy. Is that possible?

A friend who counsels bereaved children told me recently about what she calls “rough stone” work. A child who has experienced a loss is given a rough stone and a smooth stone, and every day puts one of the stones on her teacher’s desk at school. The smooth stone means she is feeling all right; the rough stone means she is feeling bad, and is a sign that she may need a bit of extra attention, one-to-one time, cuddles, a place to cry quietly, or just general special treatment.

The child then learns, through being required to clock in emotionally, that her state of mind is of utmost concern to her teachers and her school. She can seek attention without feeling attention-seeking. There is a strong net of care that is discreet. No child wants to feel outlandish and unusual.

It makes me happy to know this system is in place in some of our schools because it was not always so. I have friends who lost a parent in early childhood and are amazed at the treatment they received. “No one ever, ever referred to the fact my father had died,” one friend still laments to this day. “They thought by mentioning it they would set me off, but I was left thinking I was the only person in the world who had noticed.”

Being Bullied Scars You For Life: My Op-Ed In USA Today

In behavior, education, women on April 7, 2010 at 5:10 pm
Cave troll as corporate bully

Yup, it feels like that. Image by kevindooley via Flickr

From USA Today:

I was the perfect target.

Like Phoebe Prince, the 15-year-old Irish teen who recently committed suicide after being bullied by her new classmates in South Hadley, Mass., I arrived as a nervous outsider. Mine was a middle-class Toronto high school; like hers, most of my new classmates had attended grade school and middle school together.

I was 14, and also new to public school, having attended a private single-sex school in grades four to nine, with a year at a private co-ed school in grades seven and 10. Boys were an alien species. I had no idea how to dress fashionably, having just spent the past six years wearing a school uniform. I had pimples. I was socially awkward.

I quickly became the brunt of merciless, relentless public bullying by a small group of boys. They nicknamed me “Doglin” — a “dog” being the most vile name, then, one could bestow on a young girl. They barked and howled at me whenever I walked through the hallways, their taunts echoing off the metal lockers and terrazzo floors. One brought in a dog biscuit and put it on my desk in class.

I was terrified and traumatized.

The rest at USA Today.

Are You Lonely? Cornell's Three Suicides Raise The Issue Once More

In behavior on March 24, 2010 at 1:03 pm
Cover of "A Good Talk: The Story and Skil...

Cover via Amazon

Today’s New York Times carries a letter from the president of Cornell, a campus struck by three recent student suicides:

In a time of unrelenting connectivity, through Facebook, Twitter and our smartphones, paradoxically it is too easy to stop connecting directly with those most able to help our young people. What is the way ahead?

First, we need more research into the factors that lead to suicide in this age group and how to identify those at greatest risk. Second, on our campuses, we need to forge ever more effective partnerships among students, parents, teachers, counselors and administrators in support of our students. And third, students must learn that it is smart to ask for help.

The story about the suicides has prompted 258 comments, so far.

Some of you will remember the chorus to “Eleanor Rigby” a Beatles’ tune, about “all the lonely people — where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?

I think about loneliness a lot.

I work alone all day in a suburban apartment. I can hear my neighbor’s voice through the wall that separates our living rooms — she, too, works at home, but is a deeply private person socially. I can hear the radiator hissing and the fridge humming and the wind outside. That’s it.

If I want to speak with someone, I have to pick up the phone — always reluctant to impose upon friends who are all busy parenting and/or working — or leave my apartment and set up a face to face meeting with a friend, many of whom live a 45-60 minute drive away, many of whom are already swamped with family, work, commuting. Sitting in the library or coffee shop simply surrounded by other people we don’t know isn’t the answer.

Two of my friends are, like me right now, also on medication and ordered to rest as we recover slowly from severe hip or back pain. It leaves us alone and isolated (thank God for email!) in our homes.

There’s an interesting piece on this by David Dudley:

Whatever happened to good old-fashioned conversation?

I’m not the only one who has been struck by the eerie quiet that surrounds us nowadays. “We have all these invisible walls built by iPods and cell phones,” says Daniel Menaker, who crusades for traditional, face-to-face connection in his new book, A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation. “Not to be apocalyptic, but I’m very worried. There’s a social obligation to be available in a public space.”

Though hand-held devices now encroach on some treasured preserves of good talk—restaurant meals, an afternoon at the ballpark, the privacy of your car—Menaker’s chief villain isn’t technology per se but our work-obsessed lives. A job culture that demands always-on connectivity is flooding our days and nights with the clipped conventions and I-want-it-yesterday expectations of the work-place. The result: a nation of hyperconnected hermits, thumbs furiously working our BlackBerrys, each of us a master of an ever-smaller personal universe.

And a new memoir about being lonely by Emily White, a Canadian former lawyer living in St. Johns, Newfoundland, recently excerpted:

I lived alone for six years in my 30s, and those years were a period of relentless, almost savage loneliness. I ate breakfast alone, ate dinner alone, went to sleep alone, and woke to an empty apartment. On weekends, if I didn’t have anything planned, I saw no one.

Through all of this loneliness, I couldn’t shake the sense that there was something profoundly wrong with me. I’m 40, and I’ve been described as a member of the “Friends” generation. That is, even if I was living alone, I was supposed to be part of a hip, sassy gaggle of friends — a group that would make me feel as though I were part of a family, as though I weren’t, in fact, so alone.

But I wasn’t Carrie on “Sex and the City.” I had lovely friends, but they were busy with jobs and families. My real family was on the other side of town, and my sisters were raising kids. My work (I was a lawyer) wasn’t particularly social, and I didn’t belong to clubs or a church group.

The aloneness began to unravel me. I didn’t feel able, as one selfhelp writer advises, to see myself as my own companion. I didn’t want to cook dinners for myself as though I were having company. I wanted real company, and without it, my life began to fragment…My sleep fractured: I fell asleep in the living room, above my neighbors’ den, so that I could hear them talking in the evenings…

In fact, everything I went through when alone and lonely was empirically normal. I’ve spent the past five years engrossed in loneliness research, and I’ve seen all my symptoms and traits — the headaches, the wakefulness, the warped eating — evidenced among lonely individuals.

I lived alone for many years, ages 19-23, ages 26-30 and for six years after my divorce. I know how loneliness can gnaw at your soul. The more lonely you feel the more needy and grabby you can become — so uncool! so not fun! — that friends withdraw or you pull away from them, compounding the closed loop of solitude.

I don’t find it very easy to make friends. I once did, living downtown in Toronto and Montreal. I found it terrifyingly impossible in the 18 months I lived — survived, barely — in rural New Hampshire, where my then-partner was doing his medical residency, therefore gone most of the time and exhausted and mono-syllabic when home. I have never felt so disliked. We’d entertain, and no one would reciprocate. Everyone was married, pregnant or breast-feeding and we had no kids or plans to have any.

I live now 25 miles north of Manhattan. I can see the Empire State building from my street. But days, weeks, can go by without human contact unless I initiate it.

I don’t think I’m any less likeable than before. My sweetie is a lovely guy.  We love to cook and entertain, (very rarely reciprocated), and are planning a party for next month.

But, here, I’m wildly unconventional — no kids, unmarried (long-partnered), low-ish income in a wealthy area, no graduate degree surrounded by doctors and corporate lawyers. People don’t know what to make of me, or find me (?) intimidating, I’ve been told.

So — I chat with neighbors in the laundry room, in the elevator, at the mailbox or garage. I chat with our local businessmen, whether Hassan who sells great cheese or Gregg, from whom I’ll be buying window caulk tomorrow or Jose, who works the counter at the dry-cleaners or Mike, the shoe repairman. I talk to my Mom and Dad more than ever before, far away in Canada.

People need face-to-face contact, warmth, humor, conversation. We need to share a laugh and a raised eyebrow. We need a sliver of free cheese (thanks, Hassan!) or a juicy bit of gossip (thanks, Aqeel, our pharmacist) or just knowing we do still belong to a larger community.

It’s a terrible taboo to even admit you’re lonely. Loser! It’s one major reason I went to work a part-time retail job, just to be around co-workers and to enjoy (as I often did) meeting customers.

Doesn’t everyone have a ton of pals eager to hang out with them?

No. Not when everyone seems to be staggering under the multiple and often competing demands of: school, grad school, family of origin, their own babies and kids, aging, ill or dying parents, often living far away, their partner, their work, their hobbies, their new side-business(es), health issues, their sports or recreational or musical commitments.

It’s a minor miracle anyone, anywhere, has time to talk.

Do you?

A Death Foretold? Alexander McQueen's Final Collection Filled With Doves And Angels

In business, Fashion on March 12, 2010 at 2:01 pm
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 11:  A private ambu...

His final exit.Image by Getty Images via Daylife

In the fashion world in recent years, there were few more iconoclastic or truly creative than British designer Alexander McQueen, who committed suicide a month ago today, on February 12, a week after the death of his mother. He died on the day he was to have attended her funeral.

His final collection was reviewed this week in The New York Times:

No collection dominated the Paris season quite like Alexander McQueen’s, and not because it represented the final work of the late designer. The 16 dresses and caped coats — each one different and all referencing 15th-century paintings or carvings — were exceptional because no one else thought to make such a personal and subtle connection to the function of art on human consciousness.

Mr. McQueen’s fashion often embraced historical styles, but rarely with more feeling and modern sense of purpose. He had details of medieval paintings, in particular Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights,” captured digitally and then woven into jacquard or embroidered. He cut each of the patterns himself.

Given the subject matter of the paintings, the imagery is necessarily gothic, glorious but also dark. Lions are embroidered in gold around the hem of a beautiful black silk caped dress. On the front of a long white dress are the slightly shadowed, downcast heads of two saintly figures. Above each is a dove in flight. The silk dress, with the details rendered in different shadings of gray, extends the figures’ robes to the hem, duplicating their swirls and folds in jacquard chiffon.

and much more compassionately and movingly by Christina Binkley in The Wall Street Journal:

What made the collection difficult to watch was the unmistakable impression that the designer was immersed in thoughts of the afterlife. Patterns on a gold brocade pant suit, on closer inspection, turned out to be angels, their wings spanning the torso. A floaty silk gown was imprinted with medieval images, the fabric folded back to place one white dove on the back of each shoulder.

Perhaps the eeriest insight into the designer’s final weeks was a dress imprinted with a scene from Bosch’s triptych “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” which shows the artist’s hellish conception of the afterlife.

The final look was a fitted jacket of gold-painted feathers over a white tulle skirt embellished with gold. It created an image of a gold-winged dove flying away.

I have never owned anything by him, nor would I have been likely to. But his ebullient creativity was a great pleasure for anyone who loves fashion and design.

To die at 40, by your own hand, is a terrible thing.

On her Times blog, Horyn wrote:

I’ve done a number of interviews with Mr. McQueen over the years, since the period when he was living and working in Hoxton Square, when the brash boy of London fashion, the creator of the “bumster” trousers, and I found him about as complex and beguiling as any human. He was enormously creative and intelligent — and funny and rude and fearless. He said what he thought — a rarity in the fashion establishment — and very often he could wind you up, toy with you, pull a bit of wool over your wide, innocent eyes.

But he was the real: a genuinely talented man. Soulful, deeply English and, of course, dark. He did have a dark, romantic side that surfaced in his collections. Depressed at times? I didn’t know him well enough to say so, but I would imagine he had his moments of despair. This is a tough business.

Rage+Fear+Despair+10 Percent Unemployment+Guns = Mass Shootings

In Crime, news on November 6, 2009 at 4:03 pm
Guns seized by Washington, DC police over the ...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Why are we at all surprised — or are we — when yet another shooting rampage occurs somewhere in the U.S.?

According to the National Institute for Mental Health,  26.2 percent of adults over the age of 18 in any given year are suffering from a diagnosable mental illness. Every single day, 57.7 million Americans struggle with some form of internal demon, from schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder to depression or panic attacks.

An estimated 30 percent of American homes contain a firearm. Is it really inconceivable that there’s some inevitable and lethal overlap between those people who are at the end of their totally frayed ropes — and who also have ready access to a firearm, perhaps even training in how to use one?

Aiming and firing a weapon, (something I did in training for my book) is not terribly difficult. In a society premised on a thin, weak social safety net, one that allows so many to slip through unnoticed into poverty, madness or despair, firing a weapon into a crowd clearly, to some, seems a viable option.

Add to these basic statistics, now, a 10 percent+ unemployment rate. Banks are refusing to grant credit. Credit cards are boosting their rates and late fees. There are six people now applying for any available job. People are losing their homes, living in their cars. It’s a very safe bet that, of the 48 million who have no health insurance, there are many people who are mentally ill, perhaps severely mentally ill, on the brink of homicide or suicide with no one to talk to, to diagnose them, to offer them in or out-patient hospital treatment, talk therapy and/or a prescription for helpful medications.

Of course, I’m horrified by the shootings at Fort Hood yesterday, and today in Orlando. Yesterday’s were the reaction of a military psychiatrist who knew better than anyone what hell he would be heading into if he were deployed overseas. Today, the shooter is a man apparently fired from his job.

The raw emotions that propel people into lethal violence are tinder awaiting a match. It will happen again.

I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more frequently.

NYU's Suicides — Nine, As Of Yesterday

In education, Medicine, news on November 4, 2009 at 11:46 am
bobst library

Interior of Bobst Library, NYU. Image by davidsilver via Flickr

What is it about NYU? Or being a student there? Or living in New York? Or is NYU just really unlucky among the many colleges filled with stressed-out or clinically depressed students?

Tuesday, a 20-year-old student Andrew Williamson-Noble, whose family lives in Irvington, NY, a wealthy suburban town north of the city, jumped to his death from the same place so many others have favored, a high floor of the Bobst Library on Washington Square Park. After two students jumped to their deaths at the library a month apart in 2003, the school installed plexiglass barriers to the open sections overlooking the atrium.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students and the third leading cause of death among all youth 15–24 years old. In the U.S., only accidents and homicides claim more young lives.

NYU says it will now block elevator access to the upper floors after hours. The student jumped from the 10th floor around 4:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Here’s the piece of the story that puzzles me: Toronto has had a public library since the 1970s with a similar atrium and floors high enough to jump from. I’ve never heard of someone committing suicide there — there are likely many other facilities with similar physical designs and layouts. Is NYU’s latest tragedy a horrible combination of relatively easy access to a lethal option and a vulnerable population?  If so, what’s the solution? Is there one?

Here’s The Times’ story.

Newspaper Misstates Charges Against Teacher — Who Commits Suicide

In Media on October 5, 2009 at 2:48 pm
One Yonge Street - Current newspaper offices

Image via Wikipedia

It is every writer and editor’s worst nightmare to make an error, but one that may have pushed the person named in the story to suicide?

Today the Toronto Star is dealing with having gotten it wrong and what role, if any, their story played in this tragedy. After his photo and name were published, David Dewees, 32, lay down on the subway tracks Saturday and waited for the train that killed him.

(The Washington Post wrote last week about the trauma this creates for train drivers.)

The editor of the Toronto Star, which mistakenly printed the news last week that this Toronto high school teacher had been charged with assaulting 13-year-olds, Michael Cooke, is a man I’ve worked with twice in my career, at the Montreal Gazette and New York Daily News. He arrived to run the Star last year after being the top editor at the Chicago Sun-Times. (disclosure: I freelance occasionally for the Star.) Whatever happened in the newsroom, I know Cooke as a decent man and I am horrified on many fronts by this.

A good friend of mine teaches at the high school where Dewees worked. In too many ways, this is a story that hits home.

And, in the sort of irony any thinking editor equally dreads, here’s the Star’s first award to top teachers, a new feature they recently began.

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