By Hannah Ball Staff Reporter
Area schools have implemented anti-bullying programs, but are they actually effective in helping the students?
“It’s hard to say what isn’t happening,” said Fenton AGS Middle School counselor Tamara Hall
The school has two anti-bullying initiatives helping to ensure every student has someone to eat with at lunch.
The Student Leadership Team helps new students by giving tours, find classes, and eating lunch with them.
Anti-bullying is one of the team’s main initiatives.
The entire school is reading “Bystander,” a book that focuses on being a bystander and how important intervening is in bullying situations. For the last few years, the school has used suggestions from teachingtolerance.org, a website that supplies schools with anti-bullying programs.
One program is a “Mix It Up Day” at lunch where students are assigned a lunch table so they speak to different kids.
“It definitely takes kids out of their comfort zone,” Hall said. “This age group tends to get very clique-y, very easily. It teaches them there are people in the school they have stuff in common with that they never knew.”
In November, the school will be doing a program called “You Can Sit With Us,” which implements different strategies for standing up to bullies.
Hall said about 15-20 kids every year tell her they’re being bullied. Although, that number doesn’t include the amount of complaints teachers and administrators receive.
“As soon as a student tells an adult the situation, we follow up immediately and interview the other party and assess what needs to happen in preventing that,” she said. Sometimes the student will be assigned a mentor.
Students and parents can also report bullying online.
“A lot of times, kids are afraid to report in fear of retaliation,” Hall said. “What keeps bullying at bay is making sure kids aren’t loners.
“Every middle school has problems with bullying. Kids are uncomfortable with who they are and they tend to defer that feeling onto others rather than themselves. Being different seems to be threatening, that’s where bullying seems to be launched.”
She said she can’t say if the school’s programs have been effective in stopping bullying.
“In society, there’s been an increase in aggression and being intolerant. I don’t think our kids can be expected to be different from our culture,” she said. “Has there been an improvement, yes, but not necessarily because of teaching tolerance. That’s just a piece of the puzzle.”
One thing that’s made a difference is the school’s commitment to keep a positive culture. She said in the seven years she’s worked in that building, she “(has) seen an improvement in the culture of the school and that means things are more positive and safer.”
Sue Hinton, counselor at Linden Middle School, said the school does a good job at preventing bullying. She gives presentations in sixth grade social studies classes.
“A lot of the message is you’re the bystander, you have the power to do something. If someone intervenes, the bullying goes from 38 seconds to 10 seconds long,” she said.
For at least six years, the school has invited a speaker to talk to students about bullying. Speakers include Omega Man, who taught the students to T.H.I.N.K. if what they’re going to say is ?True, Helpful, Inspirational, Necessary, or Kind’ before they speak.
Another national speaker, Brook Gibbs, focused on resilience and personally doing something about being bullied.
The Michigan State Police do presentations on cyberbullying and sexting every year.
The school also educates their students on bullycide, Hinton said, which is suicide as a result of bullying. The school conducts pre- and post-surveys at the beginning and end of the year to find out who’s being bullied, and meets with the affected students.
Students can also use the bully hotline to report bullying.
When asked if bullying is decreasing, Hinton said, “I believe so, but I don’t know if the speakers’ messages, the education and the response from our assistant principal is all a result of why bullying is going down,” she said.
She attributes the decrease on the focus of being proactive and giving the bystander the power.
“We take it very seriously,” she said. “The students do announcements and they always have an anti-bullying message.”
She said the decrease is caused by a combination of all the programs.
Jennifer Tews, counselor at Lake Fenton Middle School, said they don’t have a program specifically labeled anti-bullying. They do, however, teach character education three times a week in homeroom, which focuses on dealing with bullying, not being a bystander and tolerating each other’s differences.
The school hosts speeches on dealing with bullying every year.
Last year the school had a presentation from Okay 2 Say through the Michigan Attorney General about dealing with bullying.
This year the high school is hosting Keenan West, who works with Okay 2 Say. He’ll give a speech to the high school students and middle school students on Oct. 13 at 9 a.m. Parents are welcome to attend,
Students and parents can also report bullying anonymously online on the Lake Fenton district website.
Tews said bullying exists in every school, and it’s hard to track the amount of bullying. “Most of our students here are pretty good about speaking up for themselves,” Tews said. “We have a lot of adults that the kids feel comfortable reporting to.”
She said bullying seems to be declining. “They’re more equipped to deal with it. They are aware of it and we have people standing up to it, teaching kids to respect one another,” she said, adding that kids nowadays can better handle bullying as opposed to five to 10 years ago.
“A lot of things can be resolved by just getting the two parties together. When one realizes how badly they hurt the other party’s feelings, they are sincerely sorry and they stop,” she said.
If Tews can’t resolve the issue, the case goes to the school’s behavioral specialist.
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