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Banishing bullying; tackling the negatives with positive reinforcement

October 12, 2011

Teasing, while unpleasant, is the sort of activity that stops when the perpetrator realizes that the target is hurt. Bullying is something else altogether—done deliberately to hurt another’s feelings—and is very damaging.

The distinction between the two is one of the things that the Eldred Central School District (ECS) has been working to raise awareness of through ongoing efforts to reduce bullying and encourage positive behaviors instead. At the least, bullying behavior causes pain and suffering, hurts self esteem and more. In extreme circumstances, it can lead to death when the target chooses suicide as a desperate response to escaping the torment.

According to ECS principal Scott Krebs, efforts to encourage more positive behaviors at the high school have been underway for several years. One recent measure to continue educating students on the issue was a presentation on bullying from Sullivan County District Attorney Jim Farrell (see sidebar on TRR’s website for more). Another measure involved bringing bullying expert and author Barbara Coloroso to ECS recently for a presentation to students, staff and parents.

Changing behaviors isn’t an immediate process. “It’s an ongoing learning experience for the kids,” said Krebs. “Their behaviors change in relation to the environment they’re in. If you’re in a family that yells a lot, you just think that’s normal. If you’re exposed to a lot of profanity, you’ll be more inclined to use profanity. It takes time to change behavior.”

An important aspect of the ECS strategy is to target behavioral change from its youngest students on up. To do so, the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program was established several years ago. The program stresses three key points—being safe, responsible and respectful—and encourages students to think about the impacts of their behavior.

PBIS chairperson Mary Gordon heads up a team of staff members responsible for implementing the program and others within the overall PBIS umbrella, including Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS), which teaches kids a variety of skills and coping techniques that encourage them to solve problems responsibly and with compassion for the feelings of others.

“PBIS teaches the children the rules for the school in a positive way,” said Gordon. “The committee has set up matrixes of rules that apply to specific areas of the school, such as hallways, where they walk in single file using appropriate voice levels. It’s done with positive phrasing, to encourage good behavior.”

District Attorney launches anti-bullying campaign in Sullivan County schools

• 160,000 children in America skip school every day because they fear being attacked or intimidated by other students.

• The U.S. Department of Justice reports that 37% of all students don’t feel safe in their school.

• The National Institute of Health reports that 33% of all students in the 6th to 10th grades nationwide experienced some kind of bullying at school.

Given these startling facts, Sullivan County District Attorney Jim Farrell has started an anti-bullying campaign that focuses on reaching children in local schools and speaking about the real effects of bullying. “It is a serious problem that we must address now,” said Farrell. “We all must be engaged—our schools, our teachers, our administrators, our parents and our law enforcement—to end bullying. I believe strongly that bullying prevention in our schools is crime prevention,” Farrell said.

In a letter sent to all superintendents and school principals in Sullivan County, Farrell wrote that bullying is routinely occurring in schools and has real effects on the health, well being and education of children. “I am offering my help and support to you and your teaching staff, students and parents to further combat bullying in our schools. I recognize that my responsibility to the community not only involves prosecuting offenders who violate the law but also trying to prevent crime by raising awareness through education of those who we can impact the most – your students.”

Farrell has begun conducting interactive sessions with students, school staff and parents and making educational presentations. “We are committed to making our schools safe and a place where education can flourish; combating this problem now, and not waiting until tragedy strikes, is the best way to do that. According to the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, 60% of bullies will have a criminal record before the age of 24. That means that my office will be involved in the prosecution of these kids and I want to do everything in my power to prevent that from happening.

“Our children deserve to be safe and feel secure in their schools and I believe that through education, awareness and action we can accomplish that goal. We need to teach our children that there are consequences to their actions and we need to engage the largest group in our schools, the bystanders, the witnesses to bullying, to stand up and to say ‘No More!,’” Farrell said.

The presentation explains the facts of bullying, focuses on the impact bullying has on the bullied, gives direction for those who are being bullied and shows the vital role that bystanders can have in ending bullying. Farrell’s presentation also addresses the issue of cyberbullying.