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December 07, 2016
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Bullying - a major concern for schools; Wayne Highlands confronts bullying by encouraging good behavior

Whenever the subject of schools comes up today, bullying is apt to be of intense concern, especially for parents of young children who are the targets of some mean kids.

Public interest is so intense that a full-length feature film called “Bully” is in theaters around the country. (Locally, the film is showing only in New York City.)

Originally, the rating on the film was “R,” which means that children could not view it without being accompanied by a parent. But due to the intense interest, the producers of the film edited much of the footage so that it could receive a rating of “PG-13.”

Recently, The River Reporter interviewed the district superintendent of the Wayne Highland School System Greg Frigoletto along with three of his staff: middle school principal Maralyn Nalesnik, middle school assistant principal Gerard Burns, Jr., and high school assistant principal Diane Scarfalloto.

The four educators began by clarifying exactly what bullying is. “Bullying is a pattern of antisocial behaviors shown to other students over time,” Frigoletto said. “We have to be clear that it is not a single act of aggression toward another student. There must be a series of unacceptable behaviors. It’s then that we can do something about it.”

Many of the public today think that every act by one student against the other is bullying. Education has to be the first step in the process of correcting these behaviors. “There has to be a persistent, repetitive response by school officials, from the classroom teacher on up to the top administration,” Burns said.

“Our school system has a school-wide policy on bullying from the elementary schools, to the middle school and the high school,” Frigoletto said. “Consistency of response and immediacy are extremely important.”

Students need to appreciate how destructive bulling can be and not be hesitant to report such behavior to the school authorities. If the atmosphere in the school is right, students will feel right about reporting serious bulling, they said.

While most instances of bullying are adequately handled by the schools, there can be instances where extreme examples of this behavior can be handed over to the police and the district attorney. “We’ve had to do this in the past and will be ready to do it again if it warrants it,” Frigoletto said.

In the coming months, the county district attorney, Janine Edwards, who just took office in January, intends to work closely with the schools in developing a memo of understanding (MOU). “This will clarify the role of the DA as well as the state police, the Honesdale Borough Police, and the Department of Probation,” he said.

In the elementary schools where healthy instruction should begin, the school has initiated a program called School-wide Effective Behavior Support (SWEBS), which aims at positive responses rather than negative responses toward bullying incidents.

“The purpose is to build a climate of cooperation and acceptance that rewards good behaviors rather than punish unacceptable behaviors,” said Nalesnik, who was once the elementary school principal. “The emphasis is on rewarding good behaviors. In SWEBS, students’ good behaviors get positive points. A number of times in the year those students with positive points get a reward like time to go outside and play a game like kick ball or some such. The students who don’t have the points don’t get the reward. Slowly, it starts to sink in.”

“The majority of problems in high school is with the girls,” Scarfalloto said. “It’s not only girls, of course, but girls are hurt by words more than boys.” Unlike in a former age, bullying has been made easy by modern technology, like cell phones, iPads, and social media like Facebook and Twitter.

“Cyberbullying is a serious problem today,” Frigoletto said. “With social media, hurtful communications can proliferate since it is carried out anonymously. It encourages even good kids to do it.”

“Until it becomes a school problem, we can’t do much about cyberbullying,” he said. As for help for parents, the district held a workshop on bullying and cyberbullying for parents only to find that there were more educators in attendance than parents. “The parents who came got a lot out of it,” Frigoletto said.

“We don’t recommend parents allowing students to have free use of electronic equipment,” Scarfalloto said. “Families should have a clear policy like the school does in the use of these things. A problem with social media like Facebook, a picture of a student or a remark about a student is sent to hundreds of others, even thousands of others without the original sender knowing it,” she said.

The school has made in-service training for teachers and administrators and would like to reach more parents in this regard.

“It can’t be repeated enough: what is absolutely important is for the school to build a climate of acceptance and tolerance where students will not accept bullying behaviors and feel safe in talking to school staff about it,” Nalesnik said.