A Club of Hearts
GHS Connections, an anti-bullying club
On August 27, Greenwich High School sophomore Bartlomiej “Bart” Palosz found a surefire way to end years of bully-induced suffering. At his home in Byram, he shot himself.
That night, Elias Frank, the senior class vice president and a midfielder on the Cardinal soccer team, logged onto the Class of 2014’s Facebook page in a state of anger-tinged sorrow. “I didn’t know him personally, but from what I have heard he was a great kid with a bright future,” Elias wrote. “I don’t want to be in the same school with kids that can cause that much hurt and pain and push someone that far.” Elias advised those guilty of unkindness, even if meant only prankishly, to make amends “before it’s too late and you have to live with your decisions,” as Bart’s tormentors do. And he offered any bullying victim harboring dark thoughts a confidential ear. “Nothing is worth dying over,” he wrote. “It’s just high school.”
The post struck a nerve. Elias realized this the following day, when a student approached and thanked him for speaking out—she herself having survived ruthless bullying. As he listened to her story, it dawned on him that, while Bart’s suicide may have been exceptional, the practice of bullying in its many forms was not. But what if the atmosphere could be changed? What if meanness could be rendered uncool and GHS could serve as a model? Duly inspired, Elias founded GHS Connections, an anti-bullying club whose mission is to make the school a place of “unified acceptance” as well as to provide a community to turn to for those who have been made to feel marginalized.
Bullying does not necessarily mean getting shoved into a locker, Elias points out. Sharp-edged words can cut far deeper, leading to damaged self-esteem and depression. Bart Palosz knew this only too well: “I have chosen to go with three people’s advice and kill myself,” he wrote on social media the month before his death.
GHS Connections seems to have achieved liftoff, with 700 members and a letter from U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, offering his help. “We want to go into the middle schools, where they kind of look at us as role models,” Elias says, naming one of several planned projects. “We want to get to them early, tell them it’s not cool to exclude people, it’s not cool to isolate them.” In the longer term, GHS Connections will try to instigate the creation of similar clubs across the country.
“We can’t change what happened,” Elias says. “But we can change what may happen.”