Taking action against bullies

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Educators and even law enforcement agencies have established programs to help prevent bullying.

The poster in the glass display case at Alma Schrader Elementary explains it best.

Beneath the colored pencil drawing of an angry-looking girl wearing big black boots kicking a crying classmate, a second-grader wrote:

Bullying is

Ugly

Love your friends

Love your enemies

You're a bully buster!

The poster's theme has become a frequent topic in local classrooms.

"I think it's probably everywhere, it's just a matter of teachers and parents noticing it and taking action," said Becky Peters, counselor at South Elementary in Jackson. "A lot of it is the result of school violence. That has made people more aware of what kids are capable of doing."

Educators and even law enforcement agencies are now recognizing the potential impact of bullying and have established programs in recent years to help prevent such incidents.

Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department detective Karen Buchheit's own experiences being bullied as a child prompted her to begin an anti-bullying program this year in local schools.

The initial stages of the program began earlier in the school year in the Nell Holcomb School District and will continue there in March. Buchheit hopes to widen her efforts to other area schools in future years.

"Bullying now is becoming a hot topic," said Buchheit. "It's an issue that affects everybody at some level -- whether it's your child, a friend's child or you were bullied yourself as a child."

Buchheit said the problem is societal, not just limited to school playgrounds. She's seen statistics that show 160,000 children in the United States miss school each day due to bullying.

"Bullying is at a whole different level. It used to be a rite of passage to adulthood," she said. "Now the kids doing bullying bring in weapons and drugs in school. In general, we're a more violent society now."

The increasing attention to the issue is what prompted the Southeast Missouri Regional Professional Development Center in Cape Girardeau to offer an upcoming seminar on bullying, said center director Cheri Fuemmeler.

"There's such a need for that, and schools don't always have a lot of resources available to them," Fuemmeler said.

The seminar is open to teachers, counselors and administrators in the 90 schools within the center's region and will take place March 15.

At South Elementary, Peters said she usually focuses on the older students -- fourth- and fifth-graders -- at her school when it comes to addressing bullying. She uses videos, group discussions and guest speakers such as the school resource officer to educate students.

"We also talk about how bullying can be just the way someone speaks to another person," said Peters. "Many times kids think it has to be physical if it's bullying, but it can be unkind things you say as well."

Sue Cook, a counselor at Franklin and Clippard elementary schools in the Cape Girardeau School District, said exclusion is another form of bullying students don't often think about.

"It happens with boys as well as girls," said Cook, who uses several anti-bullying curriculums for students in kindergarten through fourth grade. "Sometimes I just think we're meaner than we used to be. Cartoons and sitcoms are so filled with people just being mean, and a part of society finds that to be amusing. Kids aren't getting that that behavior is mean and hurtful."

Cook says she focuses on skill-building during a 12-week anti-bullying program, teaching students to respect themselves and others, manage their anger and report inappropriate behaviors to an adult.

Alma Schrader recently wrapped up a weeklong anti-bullying effort, though it's an issue the school focuses on year-round, said principal Ruthann Orr.

"We emphasis to the kids that the biggest power they have over bullies is advocating for themselves and others, and recognizing what bullying behavior is," Orr said.

The school's efforts begin as early as kindergarten, teaching students about physical and social bullying. The recent weeklong event was themed "Bystanders Unite," and emphasized why it's wrong to do nothing while someone else is bullied.

Alma Schrader counselor Julia Unnerstall said she used videos, puppets, books and role playing to help children understand bullying. Those types of activities help students heel more secure in knowing what they need to do if they encounter bullying behavior, she said.

"Nearly every adult can think back to childhood and remember a bully. It really makes a lifelong mark," Unnerstall said. "So hopefully teaching some of these techniques means students won't have to carry that throughout their lives."

cmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

By the numbers

An estimated 30 percent of U.S. students in grades six through 10 are involved in moderate or frequent bullying -- as bullies, victims or both.

* 1 out of 5 admits to being a bully or doing some bullying.

* Eight percent of students miss one day of class per month for fear of bullies.

* Some 43 percent fear harassment in the bathroom at school.

* Some 100,000 students carry a gun to school.

* 28 percent of youths who carry weapons have witnessed violence at home.

* On school playgrounds, a child is bullied every seven minutes. About 85 percent of the time, there is no intervention from adults or peers.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice

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