For years, bullying was seen as no big deal, and for many, a rite of passage. Freshmen were hazed by seniors, and when they became seniors those same freshmen hazed the incoming class.
"Kids will be kids," was the common response for years. But as the after-effects of bullying became better known, schools across the country began taking steps to solve the bully problem.
San Ramon Valley schools are no exception. Recent surveys show that a small percentage of kids in grades 7, 9 and 11 -- those grades that take part in the California Healthy Kids Survey -- report they have been bullied. Seven percent of 7th graders, 11 percent of ninth graders and 11 percent of 11th graders have been cyberbullied two of more times.
That same survey shows 68 percent of female seventh graders have been physically bullied because of their ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability or for other reasons. Eighty percent of seventh grade boys report the same thing.
The numbers drop as students get older. Fifty one percent of ninth grade girls and 58 percent of ninth grade boys report being bullied in the last year, while 43 percent of eleventh grade girls and 49 percent of eleventh grade boys report being bullied over the last year.
School spokesman Terry Koehne said those number are on average about the same as the last Healthy Kids survey.
Those are just the ones that were reported; a 2010 study showed that the majority of bullying is only reported when it escalates to physical violence, and only about 40 percent of the time, even then.
Cassandra Bankson knows first-hand how devastating bullying can be. She was bullied so severely for cystic acne during middle and high school that she dropped out of San Ramon Valley High. Bankson did private study, and graduated two years early.
"It wasn't until middle school and high school that it started to bother me. I wasn't thrown in trash cans or anything. It was very emotional and verbal," she said. "It was almost to the point that I didn't feel like a member of society."
Bankson said she floated through friendships but did have a particular friend, also with acne, in middle school. A trip to the doctor worked for the friend, although a similar treatment did little for Bankson.
"Toward the end of our friendship, she started picking on me as well," Bankson said. "It was probably because she wanted to fit in, too. She wanted to connect with them."
Bankson urges anyone who is the victim of bullying to talk to someone, although she said her counselor said the usual -- "'kids are going to be kids, they'll get over it.'"
She wished she'd gone to another counselor or been able to talk to her parents about it earlier.
Now, Bankson said, she realizes that everyone has the potential to be both a victim and a bully.
"Words hurt and, regardless of your age or your situation, bullying happens," she said. "It's about recognizing it in yourself and in other people."
Her story has a happy ending. The 6-foot-tall woman, now 20, is an Internet sensation, sharing her battle with severe cystic acne and makeup tips. Bankson shoots makeup tutorials, her YouTube channel has more than 300,000 subscribers, and her videos have received over 44 million hits.
"I would say it's in peoples' awareness," Koehne said about the bullying issue. "It's real and it's powerful."
He said San Ramon Valley district school offer 14 different safe school programs for kids at every grade level, ranging from Rachel's Challenge for middle and high school students to Soul Shoppe for elementary schoolers, which teaches skills to promote safety and responsibility and provides activities that build community and trust.
Rachel's Challenge uses video footage of the Columbine High School massacre and its aftermath, combined with Rachel Scott's drawings and writings, in a campaign to quell school violence, bullying, and teen suicide.
In addition, the DARE program has been modified to include both bullying and cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying has become a growing concern, thanks to the rise in social media and Internet access for young people who can use sites like Facebook, instant messaging, texts or tweets to carry verbal abuse or threats.
"It's largely because of technology," Koehne said. "It creates an environment where kids can be anonymous."