Metro Atlanta Schools Tackle Bullying Head-On
By Laura Raines
The educational experience is constantly changing, as technology and teaching methods evolve. But one aspect of school life remains as present as reading, writing and arithmetic—bullying. It’s a big problem that torments many children, and can have long-lasting effects long beyond a child’s school years. Fortunately, public and independent Atlanta schools have procedures in place to deal with the issue, and aim to tackle the problem through their curricula as well.
What is Bullying?
Nearly 20 percent of U.S. high school students reported being bullied in school in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bullying continues to make the news—and that’s a good thing, says Chantel Mullen, dean of student discipline and student relations for Atlanta Public Schools (APS). “Raising awareness helps. You can’t attack anything if you are not aware of it.”
Attacking the problem begins with having a very clear definition. The website StopBullying.gov describes the act of bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.” Examples of bullying include making threats, spreading rumors, and either verbal or physical abuse.
“We define bullying by Georgia’s law, and print it in our student handbooks,” says Mullen. “Our policy is no tolerance. Our students know that bullying has consequences, such as being cited and asked to sign a Stay-Away Agreement, changes in scheduling, suspension or transfer to an alternative school.”
APS maintains an anti-bullying page on its website, with multiple resources for students, teachers and parents. In June of 2015, it will join with Auburn University to sponsor an anti-bullying summit in Peachtree City. “We frequently send information to our parents and teachers. Counselors discuss it with students,” says Mullen. “You can’t get too much information out about this topic.”
Teaching Positive Behaviors
Curtailing negative behaviors is necessary, but educators are finding that teaching positive behaviors and creating inclusive, supporting school environments can also make a bigger impact, according to Katherine Raczynski, director of Safe and Welcoming Schools, an outreach project of the University of Georgia’s College of Education.
Many Atlanta public and independent schools have adopted “No Place for Hate” campaigns, sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, or participated in Power Over Prejudice programs, which are sponsored by the Anti-Prejudice Consortium.
“The best thing we do is teach kids to see beyond stereotypes and prejudices and to learn how to become leaders in solving their own problems,” says Amelia Nickerson, board chairperson for Power Over Prejudice.
Student representatives interact with one another at annual POP summits, then go back to start programs in their schools. “We ask kids what they can do, how they can take responsibility. You’d be amazed at the variety of programs they start in their own schools.”
Teaching responsibility and respect for others begins early at Johns Creek Montessori School of Georgia, where students range in age from 15 months to 6 years old. The school has policies about behavior, which teachers enforce. “But we believe in giving students the tools to deal with someone or something they don’t like,” says Denise Harold, director. “Students know … their needs can’t hurt or disturb anyone else. No one child’s needs supersede those of the community.”
Giving children responsibility for themselves and ownership of their environment, as well as modeling respect, empathy and peaceful conflict resolution, are Montessori tenets. “When children take ownership for their environment, they want to maintain a good environment,” says Harold.
The Lovett School also believes that creating the right school atmosphere is most important. It has a no-tolerance policy and addresses any reports of bullying. Every student also signs a character pledge that says he will honor the values of honesty, respect, responsibility and compassion. And counselors visit classes regularly for guidance sessions. “In kindergarten, we talk about valuing the differences in others,” says Gayle Greenwood, director of lower school counseling. “In fourth and fifth grades, when peer pressure kicks in, we discuss what it means to be a friend.”
In middle school, counselors meet with sixth-grade boys and girls separately in small groups to address bullying, body image and online etiquette. “The point is to get them thinking and talking to each other about topics that are important to them,” says middle school counselor Sara Friedman.
Character and values are also reinforced in class through book discussions, papers and projects. “Anti-bullying can’t just be a sign or a slogan,” says counselor Chase Jones. “It has to be in the fabric of your school culture.”
What Parents Can Do About Bullying
- If you suspect your child is being bullied, ask him—he may not volunteer the information.
- Look for warning signs. He may show decreased interest in school, have angry outbursts, or even hurt himself.
- If he tells you he’s being bullied, listen calmly, without getting upset, and offer your support.
- Help him figure out appropriate responses to the bullying behavior. It’s important that he feel as if he’s handling the problem himself, rather than you “solving” it for him.
- If the bullying behavior is severe enough, contact the child’s teacher, counselor or principal and work with them to determine what next steps may need to be taken.
How to Deal With Cyberbullying
“At one time, kids who were bullied at school got a break when they went home,” says Amelia Nickerson of Power Over Prejudice. “Now, thanks to the Internet, social media and cell phones bullying can follow you anywhere, anytime.”
Here are five things you can do to help your child address or prevent cyberbullying:
- Establish clear rules about the use of technology with your children.
- Know about your kids’ online and cell phone activity. Ask what they are doing and with whom?
- Teach them to be smart online, not to share personal information or embarrassing pics of themselves or others.
- Tell them never to share passwords, except with a parent.
- Encourage them to tell you immediately if they or someone they know is being tormented, threatened, harassed or embarrassed online.