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Monfredo: Worcester Public Schools Continue to Address Bullying

Sunday, May 20, 2018

 

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  - Maya Angelou

According to research, over 160,000 students skip school every day for fear of being bullied. The key is recognizing that this is a problem and work on creating a school climate less susceptible to harassment, bullying, and violence.  Thus, since the inception of the anti-bullying law in Massachusetts, the Worcester Public Schools in partnership with You, Inc., the District Attorney’s Office, Worcester Police and the Worcester County Juvenile Courts, have held the BRACE (Bullying Remediation and Court Education) conference. Their sixth annual conference was held last week at North High School.

According to Robert Pezzella, safety director for the Worcester Public Schools, the purpose of the annual conference is to bring educators and community-based agencies together to learn about current strategies and support services to combat bullying in our schools.

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 actions.  We also need to encourage those students who are being bullied to speak up and to report it to school authorities.

The conference was hosted by Mr. Pezzella and You’Inc representative and former Health Director for the Worcester Public Schools, Colleen O’Brien. Opening speakers included Superintendent Maureen Binienda, District Attorney Joseph Early and Kristine Bostek, President and CEO of You, Inc.

Superintendent Maureen Binienda set the tone for the conference with this remark,  “It is important we make schools “home” for students – a place where all students feel welcome and valued… where there is at least one person that a student can go to for support and mentoring.”

Keynote speaker for the event was Dr. Sameer Hinduja. He is a Professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University. He works nationally and internationally with the private sector to reduce online victimization and its real-world consequences.

Dr. Hinduja spoke about resilience and gave multiple suggestions on ways of addressing with this issue as well as how to address the dangers of cyberbullying. The package given to the audience contained articles on prevention as well.  He defined cyberbullying as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.”  This encompasses incidents where adolescents use technology to harass, threaten, humiliate or otherwise hassle their peers.

He cited what one student said about cyberbullying, “It makes me hurt both physically and mentally.  It scares me and takes away all my confidence.  It makes me feel sick and worthless.”  Those who are victimized revealed that often they are afraid or embarrassed to go to school.  Cyberbullying is a 24/ 7 event and has become a major problem because according to researcher 95% of teens in the United States are online and access their mobile device for a variety of reasons.

According to Dr. Hinduja, there are strategies for educators to consider in addressing this issue such as teaching students that all forms of bullying are unacceptable and that cyberbullying behaviors are subject to discipline.  He suggested that signs or posters should be posted in the schools to remind students to responsibly use technology.  Another suggestion was to use peer mentoring where older students informally teach lessons and share learning experiences with younger students to promote positive online interactions.

He also stressed that the schools need to teach social and emotional learning skills. He suggested that the schools teach ways that students can learn to effectively manage their emotions and relationships with others, thus, encouraging social awareness and self-management.  He also suggested that schools need to educate the school community about the responsible use of their devices at all times.

Most importantly, schools must cultivate a positive school climate, for as research has shown there is a link between a perceived “negative” environment at school and an increased prevalence of cyberbullying among students.  Schools must establish and maintain a school climate of respect and integrity where violations results in appropriate sanctions. The benefit of a positive school climate has been identified as leading to more consistent attendance, higher student achievement, and other desirable student outcomes. In general, it is critical for educators to develop and promote a safe and respectful school climate – feelings of connectedness, belongingness, peer respect, morale, safety, and school spirit.

His advice for parents is that if your child is cyberbullied make sure they feel safe and to convey unconditional support.  Overall parents must educate their child about appropriate online behaviors just as they convey appropriate offline behaviors.  If they deem necessary parents should discuss this situation with the school and if physical threats are involved contact the police.

What should the teens do? First of all, they need to pause before they post and make wise decisions about what they share or send or post online.  They need to understand that once you push that key everyone can see what was sent and there is no way to take it back.

Teens also need to develop a relationship with an adult that they can trust (a parent, teacher or someone else) so they can talk about any experiences they have an online or offline that makes them upset or uncomfortable.  They also need to use the account and privacy settings within each device, app or network to control who can contact and interact with them and who can read their online content.  This can significantly reduce their victimization risk.  Also, bystanders have a very critical role to play. Those who witness cyberbullying should report the harassment to the school authority.

Looking for additional information… go to hinduja.org or to cyberbullying.org.  In addition, the School Safety Director- 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.  Have questions, please reach out for assistance.

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 continually updating their bullying plan. Let’s remember that any program on bullying is only a beginning for we can’t have any “end date” on 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 a specific action, bullying can be eliminated.  Let’s work together as a community to stop this plague

 

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