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John Monfredo: Bullying—A Problem for Everyone

Saturday, February 16, 2013

 

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.” – Tim Fields

Bullying is when one or more individuals intentionally hurt others to increase their power and status. There are three main types: physical, verbal and relational. Relational bullying is what students do to hurt each other’s relationships. It’s often the most painful kind of bullying, because children are so involved in defining themselves among their peers. Social exclusion, for instance, is very hard to take because every kid wants to be part of a group.

As a former principal and now a member of the Worcester School Committee, I have fought for a balance between academics and wellness in our schools. Every day across the country, children are threatened, teased, taunted and tormented by schoolyard bullies. Now it’s in their home via the Internet, known as cyberbullying. Bullies use technology to harass victims at all hours, in wide circles and at warp speed.

Thus, when I retired as a principal and ran for school committee, bullying was one of my most important agenda items. Several years ago, I worked with former State Senator Ed Augustus in attempting to get a law on bullying. It passed in the Senate but failed in the House. It was not until two deaths occurred by suicide that a law finally passed. Massachusetts was one of six states that lacked specific laws targeting school bullying. Now, you can’t pick up a newspaper without reading about an incident that involves some form of bullying.

We know that in order for children to learn and thrive in school they need to feel safe both psychologically and physically. This cannot happen when they are subject to constant bullying, which is why I have made it a priority to promote steps to eradicate this problem. For some children bullying is a fact of life that they are told to accept or toughen up and that it is a part of growing up. This is wrong, for being bullied can have long term negative results on all involved. Bullying often leads to promoting violence. Not only does it harm its intended victims, but it also negatively affects the climate of the school and the opportunities for all students to learn and achieve in school.

The state law is a good one, but schools still need to teach our students that bullying is NOT going to be accepted and that there are consequences for their action. We also need to encourage students that are being bullied to speak up and to report it to school authorities. The Worcester Public Schools has been proactive in responding to the state mandate, “An Act Relative to Bullying in schools.” Just recently the school department gave an update to the School Committee of what they have implemented district wide. Parts of the plan include:

  • All instructional as well as non-instructional staff participate in an annual training session at the start of the each school year. In addition, community partners participate in an annual training provided by the district.
  • All students view a grade appropriate anti-bullying DVD to enhance awareness and policies and procedures related to the district’s Anti-Bullying Prevention and Intervention plan. According to School Safety Liaison, Robert Pezzella, “A committee of administrators (myself, Colleen, Judy Thompson, Liz Vecchio, Mark Berthiume, Lisa Dyer) put together 3 school age DVD’s for elementary, middle, and high school students. It came from research and links from websites related to Bullying Programs and other information. We interfaced the DVD’s with the Bullying Law enacted in 2010 and our subsequent policy and procedures on Bullying.”

 

Other parts of the anti-bullying protocol include:

  • All students are exposed to grade level curriculum materials with such programs as Steps to Respect, Second Step and Non-Violent Solutions just to name a few) The focus has been on anti-bullying topics and themes.
  • The district provides parent workshops related to the district’s Anti-Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plan. Each Quadrant will offer families a workshop focusing on Anti Bullying.
  • The district plan and forms are available in five languages on the district webpage and individual school websites.
  • The School Safety Liaison- Robert Pezzella, the Worcester Police Department, the District Attorney’s Office, the Worcester County Juvenile Court and Community Agencies are available to assist school administrators, student and parents with mediation and resolution regarding anti-bullying prevention and intervention.
  • In conjunction with the Worcester Public School, the District Attorney’s Office, Judge Erskine, the Worcester Police Department and Worcester County Juvenile Court, the district has offered Project B.R.A.C.E. ( Bullying Remediation and Court Education) to repeat offenders of bullying infractions as recommended by school principals and parents.
  • This school year the BRACE program continues to provide support to students, families, and schools. The November session provided intervention to 9 students. A BRACE Program was also in February for students, families and schools. At the present time, about 30 students have gone through this program.
  • Another feature this year is that the teacher referral forms now include a bullying infraction code to assist in tracking data related to bullying incidents and intervention supports. In addition, the Worcester Public Schools Anti-Bullying Team has begun to schedule parent workshops for the school year by quadrants.
  • Worcester Public School personnel will also be participating in an Anti-Bullying Conference sponsored by YOU, Inc., Judge Erskine and other community agencies on February 28th at South High starting at 8:30 a.m.

 

As an educator and one who has advocated so hard for change, I couldn’t be more pleased with the Worcester Public Schools moving forward and updating their bullying plan. Let’s remember that any program on bullying is only a beginning for we can’t have any “end date” for bullying prevention activities.

Please remember bullying is not just a problem in poor schools, nor is it confined to a particular ethnic group; it’s universal. As difficult and widespread a problem as bullying is it is also a problem that can be solved. Research from across the nation shows that when schools take specific action, bullying can be eliminated. Let’s work together as a community to stop this epidemic. 

 

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