High School Freshmen Fight Back Against Dating Abuse
By Meghan Mandeville, News Research Reporter

Valentine's Day was a little sweeter this year for students at Ipswich High School in northern Massachusetts.  There, a small group of freshmen boys sold flowers to their classmates so kids could send their sweethearts a little surprise for the holiday.  Some students got roses and some got daisies, but they all received a very important message: dating abuse is wrong.

The Valentine's Day flower sale was one of Teens Against Dating Abuse's (TADA) first attempts to raise awareness about the newly formed group, whose goal is to educate others about the dangers of dating abuse.  By tagging each flower with TADA's website, the group hoped to get its name out and make its mission known.

"We want kids to know we're here in case they need anything," said Trevor Frederick, 15, who has been with TADA since its inception last summer.  "We just want to stop [dating violence] because there's no point to it."

Getting TADA Going

The idea for TADA was born last year when Help for Abused Women and Children (HAWC), a Salem, Mass.-based non-profit, contacted Ipswich Middle School with an idea.

"HAWC got in touch with our school last year to start doing a little bit of awareness around abuse and those issues," said Peter Holtz, an eighth grade teacher in Ipswich and the driving, adult force behind the high school's TADA program.  

As part of HAWC's efforts, Willy Greenbaum, one of the leaders of Men for HAWC, went to the school to address the young men.

"He came and talked to the boys and it was sort-of my first real thought about domestic abuse," said Holtz.  "As the year wore on, I had the idea to start meeting with some kids before they got to the high school, before they were faced with some of these tough issues."

In Holtz's experience, eighth graders are fairly confident in their ability to stay on the right path and resist peer pressure.  It's when they get to high school that the tide turns, he said.

"You ask [eighth graders] about peer pressure and they will tell you peer pressure doesn't affect me," Holtz said.  "[But], one by one, the kids start falling [when they get into high school]," he added.  "You've got to sort of arm them ahead of time."

So, Holtz set out to do just that.

Rounding the Troops

Last spring, Holtz met with a few of the "leader-type" students in the eighth grade class and pitched them the idea of starting a group like TADA when they became freshmen at the high school.  His thinking: there's strength in numbers.

"If you see someone at a party and she's not in a good place, it's a lot easier for two or three people to go over there and intervene than it is for a single person," Holtz explained.

After rounding up some troops at the end of the last school year, Holtz met with the same boys again in the summer and planted the seeds for TADA.

"It has kind of grown from there," Holtz said.  "I've got a couple of enthusiastic guys."

Among those young men are about 10 core group members and six or seven more boys who have attended at least one of TADA's bi-monthly meetings, where different pairs of group members run the show each time.

"We've been rotating the leadership," Holtz said.  Rather than electing a President and Vice-President of the group like some other clubs do, each member of TADA gets an opportunity to lead his peers, he said.

But, its organizational structure isn't the only thing that makes TADA unqiue.
Supporting a Cause

"Whenever you have a club at a school, kids have to decide if they want to join it," Holtz said. 

That is not the case with TADA.

"You don't have to come to meetings to support this idea," Holtz said.  "It's more the idea that we're interested in spreading and we don't expect people to have to commit to this club to go along with that."

Spreading the word about dating abuse is particularly important, especially with statistics showing that one in five female high school students reports being abused by a dating partner, according to Teen Action Campaign.  And TADA member Eric Shea, a 15 year-old high school freshman, realizes that.

"It think it's an important issue because there's so much that goes on that we don't know about," said Shea.  "I don't think that it's right at all that this happens," he added.  "[Through TADA] we can raise awareness about the problem, get more people involved and let the facts be known."

And that's exactly what these young men were trying to do with their Valentine's Day flower sale. 

Looking Ahead

"We're just starting up," Shea said.  "I think after we finish selling the roses, we'll be ready to take it to the next level."

TADA has already started to plan for its next projects.  Some ideas the group members have been kicking around include a t-shirt campaign and a week of silence.

But, while plans are in the works for TADA's future, Holtz is still taking things slowly.

"I'm taking baby steps right now," Holtz said.  "I want to reach out to more segments of our population."

Eventually, Holtz hopes to expand TADA to include more than just ninth graders, too.  In fact, in the spring, some of the group's current members are scheduled to talk to the eighth grade students about joining TADA.

"Some of my core boys are very involved and excited," Holtz said.  "My feeling is that one of the things they are looking forward to is providing leadership to other kids."

While TADA looks to recruit new members to join its crusade to raise awareness about dating violence, Holtz realizes the task at hand is difficult.

"We want to effect a culture change in the school where people are comfortable speaking out about things that make them uncomfortable," Holtz said.  "We want kids to feel like it's the right thing to [do]," he added.  "It's going to take a while."

But, Frederick and Shea are both up for the challenge.

"I think I'll definitely stick with this through high school," Shea said.  "I hope I can help out [the community] wherever I can."

Frederick agrees.

"It's great to get out there and help the community, he said.  "This is definitely a long-term thing for me.  If there's a program like this in college, I will join it."


To learn more about TADA, go to www.freewebs.com/ipswichtada

To contact Peter Holtz, call (978) 356-3137 ext. 226

159 Burgin Parkway | Quincy, MA 02169
617-471-4445 | Fax 617-770-3339