Bullying and intimidation have been in the news frequently as extreme cases rise to the surface. Less extreme cases can be seen at every school across the nation.
Different schools have different approaches to bullying, but ultimately focus on ensuring that students feel safe.
However, students have varying views on what bullying is.
Local public school systems have addressed the issue by defining bullying and intimidation in board policies. Schools have also interpreted this definition to make it more understandable for students.
What is bullying?
“Bullying is when someone repeatedly and on purpose says or does mean or hurtful things to another, and the key word there is repeatedly,” Bradley County Schools Olweus bullying prevention program trainer Shannon Lillard said.
Olweus is a widely used program that supplies a collaborative approach to changing and preventing bullying behavior.
The Cleveland and Bradley County boards of education bullying policies are identical in that disciplinary action will be taken “if the act either physically harms a student or damages his/her property, or knowingly places the student in reasonable fear of such, causes emotional distress to a student or students, or creates a hostile educational environment.”
Cleveland schools learning support specialist Lisa Wiley said the school system takes a no-tolerance approach to bullying behavior. Bullying at school is more likely to occur outside of the classroom, such as in the hallways or in the cafeteria.
“We have instructed principals and teachers if they get a complaint ... about bullying, to take it seriously, to react quickly, to monitor areas where that may be more likely to occur,” Bradley County supervisor for elementary education Sheena Newman said.
Students can also report incidents anonymously at all the schools.
Many programs throughout the local systems are working on a proactive approach to such behavior.
“We have an anti-bullying program at every elementary school, and they look a little different,” Newman said. “All of these are proactive things that we are doing to make students aware of what bullying looks like and what they need to do if they see it happening.”
Newman said the system uses the Second Step program to emphasize the importance of students telling someone in authority what has happened. Lillard said the program focuses on students behavior and avoids labeling students as bullies. Instead the school system talks about participating in bullying behavior.
“If they stand back and don’t come forward then it’s like saying its OK when its not,” Newman said.
She said the school system also works to reward students for doing the right thing.
The Second Step program is also used in Cleveland City Schools.
“It teaches empathy. (The program has) units on anger management, empathy and conflict problem solving. So it teaches students how to try to solve their problems through appropriate conflict resolution and ... how to look at things from others point of view,” said Debbie Nerren, school counselor at George R. Stuart Elementary School.
Although the counselors work the most with the program, teachers are trained in the curriculum also, according to Debbie Torres, Cleveland City Schools director of staff development. Bradley County elementary school counselors work with students to try to get students to make better choices.
“Any time that a student is bullying there is a reason for that, whether it’s for power, to overcome hurt ... what the counselors are doing is trying to find out what that underlying cause for the bullying is,” Lillard said. “And a lot of the students who engage in bullying behavior are actual victims of bullying in other places.”
Dealing with bullying
Through school counselors, elementary school students are taught about appropriate behavior and what they should do if they see bullying occur.
Partnerships in the community also play a role in the city schools’ approach. The school system partners with the Behavioral Research Institute and the Cleveland Police Department to enhance anti-bullying programs.
As part of its partnership with the Behavioral Research Institute, Cleveland City Schools can offer anger management classes when needed. School counselor Cathleen Wilson at Arnold Elementary School said parenting classes are also offered through this partnership. Parents are also encouraged to attend anger management classes with their child. Wilson said the parenting classes are open to any parent regardless of whether or not their child is having issues. She said she tries to coordinate having them offered around the same time in case a parent wants to attend both classes. These classes are offered once a year, usually soon after the start of school.
“Research says that a vast majority of students see it happen and feel like they should do something about it, but they don’t know what to do,” Lillard said. Lilliard said the schools’ programs emphasize the importance of students who feel like they are being bullied to take action.
At Park View Elementary, this has been achieved through the “Park View Way” an adaptation of the Olweus anti-bullying program. Students are encouraged to ignore teasing and walk away from it. When another student behavior reaches an comfortable level, students are encouraged to tell the other student to stop.
“That person may not realize that they’ve hurt your feelings, and it is important to be proactive enough to say, ‘Stop,’ and that’s when [bullying victims should] tell an adult,” Lillard said. This could be a teacher, parent or a school administrator.
“Whatever adult that they have confidence in,” Newman said. Local educators also stress the importance of parents taking a student’s complaint seriously and making an effort to find out what is really going on.