Schools get tough on bullying
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Written by By DAVID DUPONT Sentinel Staff Writer
Thursday, 05 November 2009 11:32
PERRYSBURG - Sara Stockwell is surrounded.
The school psychologist at Woodland and Toth is being taunted by Maribeth Connor while others look on.
Connor, a kindergarten teacher at Toth, seems an unlikely bully. She admitted the role was "not for me." She was uncomfortable.
The educators laughed at the awkwardness of the role playing, but they all knew this was serious business. (Photo: Anti-Bullying program at the Commodore Building in Perrysburg on October 20, 2009. Toth elementary teachers Chad Warnimont, Megan Venzel, and Sara Stocknell enact their chant about bullies to the rest of the group. (Photo: Aaron Carpenter/Sentinel-Tribune))
The educators were participating in training for a new program aimed at preventing bullying in Perrysburg schools.
Connor and Stockwell will be part of the teams in Perrysburg's four elementary schools that will help implement the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program in the district's four elementary schools next year.
This year is spent training a core group from each school, including teachers administrators, staff and parents, and having them plan to train everyone else in the school, including playground monitors and cafeteria staff.
Cutting down on bullying requires more than getting tough with bullies. The goal is not just to crack down on individual incidents but to change the culture of the school, explained Kevin Gorman, director of pupil services for the district.
All school districts in the state, Gorman said, are required to adopt an anti-bullying program. Perrysburg choose the Olweus program because it is backed up by decades of research.
Gorman with Brent Swartzmiller, the principal of Frank, led the training. Perrysburg, Gorman said, doesn't have any more or less of a problem than any other district.
"Really we're not going to catch it all," Swartzmiller said. By fostering a climate of openness, the problem can be brought out of the shadows.
"We want it to be a regular part of how we do business," Gorman said. "Our goal is to imbed it in our school culture."
That means, he said, using the same language and the same processes.
The program does not talk about "bullies" and "victims" because that labels the children and tends to lock them in the role. Instead, Gorman said, the program talks about "children who are bullied or students who bully.
Bullying is not just rough play or even real fighting. It is a repeated pattern of aggressive behavior, Gorman said. It is a form of abuse. And it is more likely to happen at school, even in the classroom, than off school grounds.
Bullying can infect the school interfering with the learning, making students feel insecure. "They perceive a lack of control and caring," Gorman said.
Those who are on the receiving end tend to be those who stick out, the new kid, the student with special needs, the child deemed to be "gay." Being bullied can lead to depression and thoughts of suicide.
Those who bully can be girls and boys, but boys are more likely, and boys will bully both girls and boys, while girls almost always bully other girls.
Donna Lowery, a parent participating in the training, said that with the school populations growing more diverse that may lead to more instances of bullying.
But identifying it is not easy. "I've seen it, but didn't recognize it," she said. "I felt I was walking right with it and didn't recognize it."
Students who are bullied most often don't report it, said Beth Christoff, principal at Toth. "If there's anything that breaks my heart, it's seeing a child hurting but afraid to tell."
The program, which includes class meetings to discuss bullying, also aims to empower students who witness the abuse to report it.
"We want every child to feel comfortable coming to an adult or speaking up if they seeing bullying," Swartzmiller said.
During the role playing, Julie Gerdert, a second grade teacher at Toth, played an onlooker. "You see that all the time," she said afterward. "They want to be this person (who stands up for the person being bullied) but they have such a hard time because of fear."
The program strives to end that. "It's looking at the culture and how we can make it a nurturing climate for everybody," Gorman said.
The program will get a public roll out in fall. Planning for implementing it at the junior high and high school will take place next school year.
Last Updated on Thursday, 05 November 2009 13:56