As teachers at Weightman Middle School were gearing up for the beginning of the academic year, they took part in a training session led by Sharon Morris, the school’s counselor.
Morris had seen a rise in bullying reports in the previous year, and wanted to talk to teachers about the need to identify bullying and stop it. Teachers agreed the issue needed to be tackled and suggested the school take aim at it early in the school year.
Morris also believed the issue called for a more sustained effort than in previous years, so she recommended a weeklong slate of anti-bullying activities.
Each day of the week had a theme, inviting students to get involved.
For instance, they came to school on one day decked out in pink, with crazy hairstyles and glasses. The theme was “Don’t be a crazy bystander and watch someone get bullied.”
On another day, they made pinwheels for peace. The theme that day was “Too cool to be a bully, give peace a chance.”
On other days, they wore boots or jeans or bright colors, all tying in with a special theme.
The bottom line was to saturate the campus with the message that everyone must do what they can to stop bullying, said Morris, who has been an educator for 18 years.
“We did not let up,” she said.
The counselor knew the kids would have fun dressing up, but she didn’t expect the event to arouse such deep emotions by both staff members and students.
One teacher got on the school’s television morning show to share what it felt like to be bullied when she was young. Another staff member approached Morris to tell her how guilty she felt about being a bully when she was young.
One student came in to see Morris and told her about being bullied in the past by a school athlete. The student said he knew the boy would never apologize, but he said he also knew the boy was sorry when he saw he was wearing pink — and he smiled at him.
Morris estimated that 90 percent of the teachers and students took part in the activities and help set an anti-bullying tone on campus.
Weightman principal Brandon Bracciale emailed Morris to congratulate her and her committee for organizing the activities.
“What a great week last week was,” the principal wrote. “One of the most enjoyable and best I have been part of on any level as an educator.”
As principal, Bracciale wrote, he could not be more proud to see the school community “stand up to bullying in such a fun, creative and engaging manner.”
“The fact that the event occurred in the beginning of the school year helped to build a sense of community, and set the expectation that bullying would not be tolerated in our school,” he added.
Bullying is a real issue and can have deadly consequences, Morris said, noting the recent death of a 12-year-old Polk County girl who committed suicide at an abandoned cement plant. Authorities reported that the girl had been harassed by as many as 15 girls for about a year.
Remarks that kids make to each other may seem insignificant to adults, but they can be devastating to youths who are trying to fit in with their peers, Morris said.
In addition to bullying that happens on campus, bullying that happens online is a huge issue. Parents need to monitor what their kids are doing online, Morris said. They need to tell their kids that while they trust them, they don’t trust everyone else that has access to the Internet.
It’s important to realize the power that words can have, Morris said.
“Whether you’re a teenager saying something to another teenager, or whether you’re an adult that’s stalking a kid online, your words are so powerful,” she said. “They can change a person’s life forever.”
Ways to help, if your child is being bullied
• Encourage your child to talk about the bullying experience. Listen.
• Don’t criticize your child the way he or she is responding to the bullying.
• Teach your child ways to stay safe at school, such as telling an adult if he feels threatened.
• Encourage your child to pursue friendships at school.
• Encourage your child to walk with an adult or an older child if she doesn’t feel safe at school in the neighborhood.
• Identify safe areas, such as a neighbor’s home, library or community center. Tell your child to go to one of these areas if he feels threatened.
• Make sure your child has a phone number of an adult who can help.
To reduce the threats of cyberbullying
• Keep your home computer in an area of the house where it is easily viewable.
• Talk to your children about online activities.
• Consider installing parental control software.
• Know your children’s passwords and tell them not to give them out to others.
• Monitor your children’s Internet activity. Let them know that you can review their current or history of online communications at any time.
Ways to intervene, if your child is a bully
• Hold your child accountable for his behavior.
• Set up clear rules in your household and follow through with logical consequences, such as withdrawing privileges, when those rules are not followed.
• Spend time with your child and pay attention to what she does with friends.
• Support your child’s talents and skills by encouraging positive activities, such as involvement in sports or clubs.
• Reward your child and offer frequent reinforcement for positive behavior.
• If your child has been reported as engaging in bullying behaviors, listen to your child, but check the facts. Children who bully are also good at manipulating.
Report a bully:
Go to: www.pasco.k12.fl.us, and click on the “stop bullying” link.
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