Joss Bates was dropped off at his Ahwatukee home last weekend to find 114 notes hanging around his front yard, displaying quotes, words of comfort, love and encouragement written on them from friends and family.
“This is one of my favorites,” said Bates, 13, holding up one of the brown paper tags, typically called “weathergrams.”
The note was from a friend, telling Bates how much they care about him, and how they were sorry for not sticking up for him.
After what he described as a whole school year of verbal, physical and emotional abuse from schoolmates, Bates was taken out of seventh grade at Horizon Community Learning Center just six weeks before the end of the school year.
Though some action was taken by administration, Bates’ mother, Anysia, said she felt Bates wasn’t safe on campus. He will be attending a school within the Kyrene School District in the fall.
Horizon administration was unable to comment on Bates’ situation specifically due to family privacy laws.
“We’re not going to hide from the fact that we aren’t immune to bullying,” Horizon Executive Director Betsy Fera said. “We want to be able to handle each incident swiftly,” added Nancy Emmons, secondary principal.
Initially wanting to be kept anonymous, family friend Julie Grove organized a group of family, friends, students and parents to write the weathergrams for Bates.
Weathergrams are known as an ancient Japanese tradition that feature prayers or poems with a nature or weather theme. The idea is that they stay hung on trees or other plants until they wither away, with their messages carrying on.
“I kind of tweaked it, but the point was to show him the power of word in a good and positive way,” said Grove about Bates’ weathergrams.
Bates, who also has Asperger’s syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, said he had never felt that much care from others until seeing the weathergrams.
“Since that day, I feel like I’m in a new life now,” he said. “I don’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else.”
According to the National Autistic Society, some 40 percent of children with autism and 60 percent of children with Asperger’s syndrome have experienced bullying.
As the brown papers tied with brown string swayed on the Bates’ trees, bushes and even basketball net, Anysia said her family was overwhelmed with the feeling of love and support for her son.
“When it gets hard or things get bad, he can look at these and remember that so many people care,” she said.
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