Combating bullies in high schoolIn recent months the topic of bullying has come to the forefront on the national scene. School officials within District 833 are making sure that their issues with bullying don’t reach those extremes.
By: Amber Kispert-Smith, Woodbury Bulletin
In recent months the topic of bullying has come to the forefront on the national scene.
School officials within District 833 are making sure that their issues with bullying don’t reach those extremes.
“Bullying is on the forefront of everyone’s minds,” Woodbury High School assistant principal Todd Herber said. “There’s bullying going on out there, we’re not naïve; I think it is an issue for all of our students at one point or another.
“But, we’re here to help them and create an environment where they feel safe — these students are not alone.”
The effects of bullying
Bullying at the high school level is quite different from bullying at the middle school level, district officials say.
Whereas at the middle school level, bullying usually stems from body image and social status, bullying at the high school level typically develops out of relationships, or more specifically relationships that have gone sour, WHS assistant principal Sarah Sorenson-Wagner said.
Even though the causes of bullying may be different, the definition of bullying remains the same.
The District 833 bullying policy defines bullying behaviors as “rumor spreading, teasing, ostracizing, physical harm and verbally taunting.”
In recent years cyber bullying, or online or texting bullying, has become the most common means of bullying, school officials said.
“You can become real brave when you have the keyboard and you can say anything to anybody,” East Ridge High School assistant principal Dennis Roos said.
The causes of bullying can stem from wanting to feel superior, to damaged friendships.
“It’s a challenge to get kids to see the value in others and stop their behavior,” Herber said.
Some of the key symptoms or indicators that a student might have a problem with bullies include: panic attacks, depression, thoughts of suicide, poor concentration, flashbacks, guilt, confusion, fear, sense of isolation, insecurity, withdrawal, indecision, reliance on drugs, shattered self-esteem and low self-image.
Additionally, low attendance and disengagement are also big indicators.
“It just speaks to the human nature of how important it is to belong,” East Ridge principal Aaron Harper said. “Disengagement is a big sign that something else is going on.”
Ways to combat bullying
Neither WHS nor East Ridge officials said they have encountered a serious problem with bullying. But they do say it is prevalent enough that they have developed ways to stop and curb the issue and help students feel safer at school.
At both schools, when an incident of bullying is reported, whether to the administrators or to the counselors, the school begins an in-depth investigation into the report before taking any steps to correct it.
“We take reports of bullying pretty seriously,” WHS counselor Merry Holden said.
Once the schools have assessed the severity of the bullying, they then make the decision to talk with the students involved, maybe involve parents or even the school resource officer.
“There is that perception that kids think that if they tell somebody, it will get worse and nothing will be done about it,” Herber said. “But, that’s why we’re here, we’re here to help.”
Both schools have taken steps to decrease the likelihood of bullying by fostering the development of student organizations like Link Crew, which gives students upper classmen peers to turn to.
“As a school, we try to make sure personalized connections are made,” Harper said.
Additionally, East Ridge recently held a “Respect Retreat,” through Youth Frontiers, which was an all day event where students came together to talk about respect, disrespect and even the topic of bullying.
“As a school, we have had this respect focus that we’re trying to promote,” said East Ridge counselor Cindy Hoffbeck.
Hoffbeck and Harper said the biggest benefit of the retreat was students coming together to talk about what issues they might be facing.
“It’s a safe environment where students who may not always have a voice at the table, have a voice and they can say some pretty impactful things,” Harper said. “Peers hearing peers speak is a powerful thing.”
Whereas students have administrators and teachers to turn to for support, the school staff also needs support in how to handle issues of bullying.
The District 833 Mental Health Services is a key resource to those mental health professionals in the school — nurses, psychologists, counselors and social workers — as well as teachers, said Ron Rhunke, District 833 Mental Health Services coordinator.
Mental Health Services provides school staff with connections to other resources as well as training for how to handle mental health issues when they arise.
Most recently, Mental Health Services held a training session on bullying and cyber bullying.
“We want to make sure our administrators and staff feel supported,” Rhunke said. “Anytime you do training, it just makes you feel more comfortable, so the staff just become more comfortable in doing their job, and that’s better for everybody.
“We want students to feel like the school is a safe place and there’s somebody to talk to.”