Bully beware

  • Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The stereotypical image of a bully is a big kid pushing around a smaller kid. In reality, bullying can come in the form of gossip, verbal abuse, and cyber bullying, which is an attack on the Internet. Whether the behavior hurts or harms, intimidates, harasses, and is either emotional or physical, it's bullying.

Recent headlines have demonstrated the deadly consequences of bullying. The stories happened to coincide with a recent annual observance: October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month and communities took action to raise awareness of bullying prevention. At the local level Williamsburg County School District, Adult Education substitute teacher Paulette Evans presented bullying workshops to students at several district schools. The workshops focused on what motivates a bully and how to deal with them. Visual presentations were provided as well as some students engaging in role playing situations. Afterward, Evans, who as a child was a victim of bullying, hosted a question and answer period, which was followed by an upbeat rally.

The workshops underscore the importance of awareness and prevention but also bring to mind the tragic consequences of bullying. On October 17, Jordan Lewis, a 15-year-old from Illinois committed suicide. According to his father, his suicide note blamed bullying. His death took place days after Rebecca Ann Sedwick, a 12-year-old Florida resident jumped to her death after being the subject of constant attacks by two teenagers. The two girls have since been arrested in connection to her death.

The impact of bullying affects student scores as well. Large-scale survey data gathered by University of Delaware researchers suggests that 13 percent of students have experienced physical bullying and 37 percent have been victims of verbal bullying which has been linked to an increased risk of reduced academic performance, depression, self-harm and suicidal behavior.

According to a 2012 survey conducted by the Anti-Bullying Alliance (which is hosted by the National Children's Bureau) more than 90 percent of 1,000 11-16 year-olds surveyed said they had been bullied or seen someone bullied for being too intelligent or talented. Almost half of children and young people (49.5 percent) have played down a talent for fear of being bullied, rising to 53 percent among girls. One in 10 (12 percent) said they had played down their ability in science and almost one in five girls (18.8 percent) and more than one in 10 boys (11.4 percent) are deliberately underachieving in math – to evade bullying.

At present, there are no federal laws that directly address bullying; however, in some cases bullying overlaps with discriminatory harassment that is covered under federal civil rights laws enforced by the US Department of Education and the US Department of Justice.

The Williamsburg County School District has policy in place that addresses the issue. In a prepared statement, District Superintendent Dr. Yvonne Jefferson-Barnes explained the district's Bullying Prevention and Intervention strategies and programs are handled through the district's Student Services Division and involves the provision of training and professional development activities designed to support staff, in regular contact with students, with the knowledge, skills and resources they need to prevent acts of bullying before they occur, to support students at risk of bullying or being bullied, to identify bullying incidents when they occur, and to respond productively to active incidents of bullying by turning them into teachable moments for the bullies while protecting victims from further harm and remedying any damages.

"When staff demonstrates that they respond effectively to incidents of bullying, and in a way that protects our students, they can be the catalyst that changes the culture of the school and the school district," Jefferson-Barnes continued. "The process involves encouraging witnesses to come forward and report other incidents." Jefferson-Barnes said to assist the district in carrying out these activities the Student Services Division has assembled a list of resources and programs, including free and low cost programs, to support the system in effectively implementing its bully prevention program.

A vigorous school policy that includes incident reporting and intervention has been shown to render positive outcomes. For example is a 2011 University of Turku (Finland) study of 234 schools involving 30,000 students in grades one to nine that found bullying stopped completely in nearly four in five cases and decreased in most others when there was intervention. The study cited varying effectiveness, with the best results from students in grade fourth.

Report for information and resources on bullying, visit the school district website at wcsd.k12.sc.us. Once at the site hover over "departments" to find the Student Support Services link. Further information can be found at the National Child Traumatic Stress Network at nctsn.org, the federal government website StopBullying.gov, and pacer.org.

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