Bullying isn’t anything new, but it’s becoming increasingly imperative that schools remain as vigilant as possible toward the issue.
Too often we hear stories – whether nationally or closer to home – about behavior that’s physically or emotionally abusive in schools, and it’s now even worse with the advent of social media and Internet anonymity.
School administrators clearly can’t be everywhere, but the Aiken County School District has wisely moved forward with programs to try to create a safe and supportive environment for students that suppresses bullying.
The school district is currently in the process of implementing a program called “Positive Behavior,” which aims to encourage greater understanding and empathy among students.
Philip Young, a student support administrator for Aiken County schools, said the initiative aims to create a proactive rather than a purely reactive framework for dealing with problems.
It also wisely involves tracking and identifying incidents and problematic areas, Young noted.
“If the school looks at that data and they start to notice that, for instance, at 2 p.m. in the third grade hallway, we’re getting lots of reports of bullying, then the school psychologist, the counselor, the principal can look at that and develop some sort of intervention,” Young said. “We’ve lacked that in the past. We knew that things were going on, but we didn’t have a systematic way of understanding it.”
Such programs are very encouraging, especially since they go beyond just anecdotal evidence, but it still takes the careful eyes and ears of teachers, guidance counselors and principals to make sure each school in the district has a positive and productive environment.
Additionally, school resource officers can be an important asset for students seeking help.
Capt. Maryann Burgess of Aiken Public Safety said bullying can be “rampant” in most schools, including locally, but officers can be very useful mediators when conflicts arise.
“The officers are there to help in those situations, whether it’s taking criminal action or talking to the other party involved and saying ‘you’re getting close to some criminal behavior here,’” Burgess said. “But they can also be a resource for those dishing out the bullying by asking if there’s something that they can help with or asking why they’re doing it.”
She noted that law enforcement officials have also worked alongside nonprofits to organize anti-bullying workshops in order to help the community.
“We just had a back-to-school anti-bullying seminar earlier this month and had a really good showing of parents and kids, and we hope to have more of those in the future,” she said. “If more students are empowered to stand-up for themselves, either through peers or their parents or their school resource officers, I think a lot of bullying could be nipped really quickly.”
Keith Liner, a member of the Aiken County School Board, said that, fortunately, such anti bullying programs have appeared to make a difference, particularly by introducing positive anti-bullying measures to younger students.
“It’s gotten better over the past few years because some of the schools have programs, even in the elementary schools, to identify what bullying is and have really tried to get the students to help each other out,” Liner said. “Targeting the younger kids has really helped so that they know from the on-set that even small things can be bullying and they should bring it to someone’s attention.”
The root causes of bullying certainly remain complex and are constantly being studied and researched, but through a concerted effort, inappropriate behaviors in schools can be curbed.
Joy Shealy, middle school academic officer for Aiken County, said one of the most important reminders for parents is that if their children come to them with a concern, they need to contact a school administrator.
“If we have a report of bullying, we don’t say, just ignore it. We have specific steps in place to deal with it,” Shealy said. “Concerns of students are real, and we have to address them.”
It’s clear that student behavior has changed over the years, and there are now a multitude of very personal ways for students to bully. Keeping track of that behavior and aiming to decrease bullying tendencies are essential to making sure students get the educational experience they deserve.