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The bully pulpit: Bullying prevention efforts to create a positive school climate


Alone outcasted student being mobbed by other students

When it comes to bullying, students in Cumberland Valley School District in Mechanicsburg are learning that it takes just one person to make a difference.

The It Takes One (ITO) club, in its eighth year, aims to create a space where students from all areas can feel welcome. Students learn what it means to be a respectful school citizen and how to be an active bystander in bullying situations.

Club meetings are planned by student leaders and two advisers, Geraldine Johnson, a positive behavior support specialist in the district, and Kim Baldwin, a high school counselor.

“The goal of these meetings is to help people feel included, to come up with ways to support each other, and for people to get to know others they wouldn’t know through their classes,” Johnson says.

While the club hosts many events to bring students together, such as pizza socials and tie-dye shirt parties, it also provides a secure environment where students can share their experiences and learn how to improve the school climate.

ITO student leaders serve as the eyes and ears within the student body, surveying the student body to keep advisers updated on student needs.

Students who may be struggling are matched up with ITO leaders who can attend club meetings with them to help them feel comfortable in the social setting. Parents have even contacted club advisers to get support for their child.

Johnson sees the positive impact the club has on students from all areas.

“There are students who come because they need friends and there are students who come because they want to be a friend and support,” she says. “It’s really great to see some of those friendships form and see some of those students become a lot more confident.”

The It Takes One club is just one example of schools in Central Pennsylvania taking preemptive measures to address an ever-changing threat of bullying.

What is bullying?

In a 2015 nationwide survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, 20 percent of high school students reported being bullied on school property in the 12 months preceding the survey. And because there is often shame associated with admitting to being a victim of bullying, this percentage could be even higher.

The CDC defines bullying as any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth, including physical, psychological, social or educational harm.

While no one wants to think about their child being bullied, schools are equipped with a wealth of knowledge and charged to act on incidents that do happen.

“Schools are required by the Pennsylvania School Code to not only have anti-bullying policies in place, but they are also required to report bullying incidents to the Pennsylvania Department of Education on an annual basis through the Safe Schools Online Reporting system,” says Michelle Gwin Nutter, manager of the Center for Safe Schools.

The Center for Safe Schools partners with schools and communities to provide information on a wide range of school safety topics, including bullying. It is run by the Center for Communities and Schools.

“For nearly two decades, the Center for Safe Schools has been committed to serving as a statewide clearinghouse for schools, law enforcement, parents, and others on school safety and youth violence prevention,” Nutter says.

The Center for Safe Schools has a wealth of resources for parents, from fact sheets to webinars on how to prevent and address bullying. Parents can learn more at safeschools.info.

Cyberbullying

With social media being ever-present in students’ lives, cyberbullying is an increased threat. Online communications have changed the landscape of school bullying.

“It used to be, if you were bullied at school, you came home and it ended when you got home or you could get support when you got home,” Johnson says. “Now, because of social media, it can follow you home. It can be taken right in your bedroom if you’re on social media.”

Parents often turn to disciplinary action when social media is misused, taking away devices. But Johnson notes that can have a negative effect on the situation.

“Monitoring is an important part of social media,” she says. “The suggestion from experts in the field is more to do it with your student – have their password, go through their phones with them, and make it more of a learning experience. Because if you take it away from them, all that will make them do is have secrets.”

Johnson has witnessed students use friends’ phones and accounts when their social media is taken away. She encourages parents to keep the lines of communication open to educate students about the consequences of their actions and how they can do better next time.

Nutter also advises parents to take an active role if cyberbullying is present.

“Authorities may be able to help in some cases of cyberbullying,” she says. “If the cyberbullying is interfering with learning, report it to the school. If you think a crime was committed (e.g., serious threats of harm), contact the police.”

Johnson notes that the most important thing that parents can do is contact the school if bullying is happening.

“We can’t do anything about something if we don’t know about it,” she says.

Once reported to the school, Johnson advises parents to focus on their child’s well-being.

“One of the things I always stress to parents is to put their emphasis and energy on getting support for their child,” she says. “Sometimes it’s so upsetting for parents when their child is being bullied that their main focus is often what is going to happen to the child that is doing the bullying. We will take care of the consequences or teaching of another student. They have to trust us to take care of it.”

 

Cassandra Davis is an editor and a freelance writer. A native of Syracuse, N.Y., she now resides in Carlisle with her husband, daughter and beloved cat.

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