John Monfredo: Worcester’s Anti-Bullying Conference
Saturday, March 08, 2014
The event was held at Worcester Technical High School and the host for the event was Robert Pezzella, Worcester Public School Safety Liaison, who did an outstanding job in his role. Guest speakers bringing greetings to the conference were Dr. Melinda Boone, Superintendent of the Worcester Public Schools, the Honorable District Attorney Joseph D. Early, Jr., and Elizabeth Folcarelli, President and CEO of Y.O.U., Inc. The audience was made up of 33 school districts representing schools and community organizations.
Guest speakers and presentations
Dr. Boone spoke about the importance of resiliency (helping those who are victims of bullying) and how to prevent bullying. She stated that everyone needs to be on board in addressing this issue. She challenged everyone at the conference to take what they learned from the conference and make a difference in the life of the students that they serve. “Let’s have a bullying free community.”
District Attorney Early echoed the need for everyone to work together for 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year. Also, harassment and bullying have been linked together to 75% of shooting incidents in this country. Usually the shooter has been a victim of bullying. Through his office, schools have requested the DA bullying programs and his office has presented bullying programs to over 200,000 people. He stated that we are making progress but there are not any easy answers for with cyber bullying the bully can harass the victim 24 hours a day. He told the audience about one victim who stated that he would rather have a physical beating for at least there is a start point and an ending point to the irritation.
Elizabeth Folcarelli, CEO of Y.O.U. spoke about Y.O.U.’s role in bullying and that bullying remains a very serious problem in society. She spoke about the self-esteem of the child and how many children have talked about not wanting to attend school because of the fear and the intimidation of being bullied.
A slide show featuring Sirdeaner Lynn Walker, a nationally known advocate for safe schools and anti-bullying programs was presented but due to an illness Ms. Walker was not able to attend. In 2009 she lost her son James, age 11, for he had taken his own life after enduring constant bullying at school. Since then, Ms. Walker vowed to do all that she could to make sure no other mother had to experience the agony of losing a son to bullying. Ms. Walker is attempting to get Congress to take action for she feels the learning environment needs to change.
Later in the morning, Nancy Rothstein, Massachusetts Assistant Attorney in the cyber crimes division and Daniel Herman a Massachusetts State Trooper assigned to the State Police Detective Unit at the AG’s office provided an overview of the issue of cyber bullying and its significant, detrimental effects on the schools and court systems.
A group of Worcester’s Doherty High School students, with the assistance of Mr. Pezzella, made a video on the topic of bullying and plan to show the video in the future to other high school students. In the breakout sessions topics such as “Outlining the New Amendments and requirements of the Massachusetts Anti-Bullying legislation were discussed as well as the topic of “Building Empathy and Respect: An Experiential Approach to Bullying Prevention/ Intervention” took place.
In the afternoon the topic of “What’s Working: School Districts Present their Bullying Programs” was highlighted. Carol Erskine, First Justice of the Worcester County Juvenile Court made the introduction and spoke about her role in initiating the B.R.A.C.E program in Worcester (Bullying Remediation and Court Education).
The conference was well attended and as one who has been a strong advocate for an anti-bullying law for years I was delighted to see the commitment by so many groups to help stamp out bullying. In order for children to learn and thrive in school they needed to feel safe both psychologically and physically. This cannot happen when they are subjected to constant bullying. In the past, bullying has been a fact of life for the children were told by adults to accept and toughen up for it’s part of growing up. It was the wrong message for 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.
Years ago when I was a principal, I saw bullying first hand and saw how it affected the children. I remember seeing a little girl crying in the corner of the schoolyard because she was told by one of her classmates that she wasn’t allowed to play with them and other classmates because they didn’t like the way she dressed. Then there was a boy who wasn’t picked to play with the other boys on their football team at recess time because he couldn’t speak English. Now due to cyber bullying the issue is ongoing at school and at home.
Numbers don’t lie
Let’s look at the facts:
- 25% of middle school students and 15% of high school students have been bullied at one time or another.
- It is estimated that 160,000 students miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students.
- 15% of all school absenteeism is directly related to the fear of bullying at school.
- 71% of students report incidents of bullying as a problem at their school.
- One out of every ten students who drops out of school does so because of bullying.
The conference spent a great deal of time addressing cyber bullying for this is the high tech bullying of the 2014. Cyber bullying is a huge problem, even more widespread than traditional schoolyard bullying. A new study found about 25 percent to 30 percent of youth have admitted experiencing or taken part in cyber bullying, but only 12 percent of youth said the same about schoolyard bullying.
What do we do?
According to research (and there is lots out there on cyber bullying) consider the following information:
Take action if a child is being bullied online:
- Watch out for signs that a child is being bullied online such as a reluctance to use the computer or go to school may be an indication
- Report online bullying to your Internet or cell phone service provider. Most companies have Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs) that clearly define privileges and guidelines for those using their services, and the actions that can be taken if those guidelines are violated. They should be able to respond to reports of cyber bulling over their networks or help you track down the appropriate service provider to respond to.
- Report incidents of online harassment and physical threats to your local police. Some forms of online bullying are considered criminal acts.
We also need to teach kids how to react to an online bully:
- STOP: leave the area or stop the activity (i.e. chat room, online game, instant messaging, or social networking, etc.)
- Block the sender’s messages. Never reply to harassing messages.
- Talk to an adult. If the bullying includes physical threats, tell the police as well.
- Save any harassing messages and forward them to your Internet Service Provider (i.e. Hotmail or Gmail).
Due to the significance of cyber bullying, Rob Pezzela, Worcester Public School Safety Liaison, stated that we all need to advocate for more in-school cyber bullying presentations. Assemblies can be appropriate forums for education sessions. He plans to work more closely with the District Attorney’s Office for they are in the schools regularly to educate students about the dangers of bullying and that of cyber bullying.
As an educator and one who has advocated so hard for change, I couldn’t be more pleased with the conference but the awareness factor needs to continue. 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 by everyone working together. Research from across the nation shows that when schools take specific action, bullying can be reduced or eliminated. Let’s work together as a community to stop this epidemic.
Related Slideshow: MA School Districts With The Most Suspensions
Here are the 20 Massachusetts public school systems with the highest number of out of school suspensions, from lowest to highest. The data were collected by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary School Education, and refer to the 2011-12 school year. Data represent the number of total suspensions, not the number of individual students suspended. Dropout reates indicated the percentage of students, grades 9-12, who dropped out of school between July 1 and June 30 prior to the listed year and did not return before October 1. Both in school and out of school suspension rates indicate the percentage of students receiving one or more of the respective suspensions. All data are self reported by school districts.
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