Parent asks how to get school to respond to bullying

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  February 12, 2010 06:00 AM

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Barbara, Our elementary school does not teach or foster conflict resolution in any grade. It sounds like a small issue but it becomes a big deal as these students move into the higher grades. This has been evident by the recent issues with bullying. Additionally, it contributes to the high school dropout rates (our dropout rate is one of the highest in southern Mass.).

It just seems like it would be very obvious that when two children do not resolve an issue on the playground, it will just create larger issues down the road!

How do you get a school to understand the importance (both long & short) to conflict resolution? It is very frustrating that I need to pursue the topic and it is not the other way around.

From: Hopeless, Westport

 

Dear Hopeless,

If the school is not taking on the issue, look to your PTO for leadership. If the PTO isn't interested, then invite some parents for coffee at your house to form a committee that will approach the PTO, the principal or the school board. (It's always a smart idea to go through the channels, don't go to the school board before you've talked -- and been turned down by -- the principal; all you'll do is make enemies.) Don't just invite parents you know; look for some who you think might be like-minded or show leadership. This is an issue that, sooner or later, has the potential to affect every child in every school.

Check this website, it might help you get started; this book; and this factsheet from the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Are there any parents who can share their experience of how they got their school to take action against bullying? Please write in!

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.



This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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9 comments so far...
  1. The PTO might be one good place to start - our PTO brings in enrichment programs for the kids, so researching anti-bullying presentations and bringing some suggestions might be a really good way to get something started.

    I definitely think it's worth approaching the principal, and also the school psychologist or counselor, if there is one. If you have a good relationship with your child's teacher, and you have specific concerns about incidents in your child's class, they may also be a good resource (keeping in mind yesterday's discussion - don't be a pest about it, but I do think it's worth bringing up). While our school does have anti-bullying programs and so on, there was a problem in one of my kids' classes a few years ago and the teacher did role playing with the kids, and for one scenario selected the bully to play the 'victim' and one of the victims to play the 'bully'. It was very effective.

    Posted by akmom February 12, 10 07:00 AM
  1. I live in southeastern MA (though not at south as the LW) and our school system uses a program called "BullyGuard." It is very reasonably priced and something that we fund through the PAC (our version on the PTA). The program includes a school-wide assembly and establishes the idea of Safe Zones and Safe People, which puts the onus on the school and educates and empowers every adult at school - from teachers to adminstrators to service staff such as cafeteria workers and custodians to volunteers - to take an active role in bullying prevention, awareness, and resolution. I'm sure that indicents still happen, but to my knowledge bullying is not a huge issue in elementary and middle school (I don't have any high schoolers yet). I think it's important to bring in school-wide programming so that every adult - especially teachers - hears and reinforces the same anti-bullying message and understandsand follows the same procedure for addressing incidents. The program also empowers and puts responsibility on other students to speak up and report incidents that they have witnessed. Finally, parent education is a part of this as well. Formal programs are a great way to get everyone on the same page and send a consistent message that our schools are a safe place for our children to learn in, free from intimidation, assault, etc.

    Posted by Jen February 12, 10 12:10 PM
  1. I think people are expecting too much from young children, at 6 or 7 most children don't understand "conflict resolution" and for the most part minor issues pass quickly if adults just let them be children they'll do what most children do and forget about it in an hour.

    Is the LW talking more about constant bullying than one time squabbles?

    Posted by JT February 12, 10 06:39 PM
  1. JT -- children at 6 or 7 do not understand conflict resolution. I agree absolutely. You seem to be saying that therefore, no need to teach them. That makes no sense. Or perhaps you misunderstand what bullying programs are -- they are programs that exist to teach kids good conflict resolution skills. I have trouble understanding how that is not a good thing -- if we want children to know how to solve problems without violence, and if we want children to understand the problems of bullying, we should integrate that into school systems and *teach* them.

    When people talk about bullying, they are not talking about minor and occasional squabbles between two kids, which is what you seem to be talking about. People are not up in arms about occasional squabbles -- it was not occasional squabbles that drove the poor girl in South Hadley to kill herself, and it is not a "squabble" when, in Waltham, a girl attacks a younger child with scissors and slams his head into a locker. To prevent issues like this -- because there is research that suggests kids are getting more violent than they were, say, 20 years ago -- bullying programs exist.

    To the LW, I ditto the idea of approaching the PTO. Go with some examples of good school bullying prevention programs, and see if you can get the PTO to agree to approach the principal as a group.

    Posted by jlen February 12, 10 09:03 PM
  1. While bullying may contribute tangentially to a drop out issue, it seems like an easy target to blame instead of bigger issues like poverty, parental involvement, and emphasis on education in the home.

    Posted by C February 13, 10 03:41 AM
  1. Unless teachers and building administrators take an active and pro-active stance with respect to bullying, any program a school puts into place is not going to work. Unless administrators follow written school policies with respect to consequences, the bullies will continue to feel enabled and empowered to target those students who are viewed as weak and weaker.

    In the case of Phoebe Prince, all of the print articles point towards teachers and high school administrators being aware of the in-school bullying, but of doing little to address the issue. I'm not even getting into the cyber-bullying aspect. My comments are strictly about what occurred in and around the building during those times when the school district had responsibility for Phoebe Prince's well-being and safety.

    How can a student be chased around the building, inside and out, during school hours without any teacher or administrator being aware?? South Hadley High School is not Brockton or Rindge & Latin; it is a very small school with a very small number of students.

    If school personnel really intend to address the epidemic of bullying within school walls, they need to get off their butts and do more than just talk. In South Hadley, administrators are already pushing people to move on. There can be no moving on until those administrators address what occurred during their watch. Without decisive consequences for those who bully, all else is meaningless.


    http://run4chocolate.wordpress.com

    Posted by sauerkraut February 15, 10 08:51 AM
  1. It seems it is time you start teaching your own children conflict resolution, and let the teachers focus on math.

    Posted by TheScarecrow February 15, 10 09:13 AM
  1. The PTO is limited by what the school/principal will let into the school. If the principal doesn't want/feel a need for an anti-bullying program, then the PTO is going to have difficulty getting one into the school. As a parent, you can support the PTO in this endeavor by attending a PTO meeting and presenting your program proposal and rationale, as the principal is present at those meetings.

    I am a PTO member, and our enrichment program consists only what the teachers/principals request- approve. They claim they have tried many programs over the years and this is what they have found that is both good and fits into the curriculum.

    Posted by resident99 February 15, 10 12:04 PM
  1. That's such important information to have, resident99, thanks for sharing it. I wonder what would happen if there really was a hue and cry from the PTO membership....?

    BFM

    Posted by Barbara F. Meltz Author Profile Page February 16, 10 09:25 AM
 
9 comments so far...
  1. The PTO might be one good place to start - our PTO brings in enrichment programs for the kids, so researching anti-bullying presentations and bringing some suggestions might be a really good way to get something started.

    I definitely think it's worth approaching the principal, and also the school psychologist or counselor, if there is one. If you have a good relationship with your child's teacher, and you have specific concerns about incidents in your child's class, they may also be a good resource (keeping in mind yesterday's discussion - don't be a pest about it, but I do think it's worth bringing up). While our school does have anti-bullying programs and so on, there was a problem in one of my kids' classes a few years ago and the teacher did role playing with the kids, and for one scenario selected the bully to play the 'victim' and one of the victims to play the 'bully'. It was very effective.

    Posted by akmom February 12, 10 07:00 AM
  1. I live in southeastern MA (though not at south as the LW) and our school system uses a program called "BullyGuard." It is very reasonably priced and something that we fund through the PAC (our version on the PTA). The program includes a school-wide assembly and establishes the idea of Safe Zones and Safe People, which puts the onus on the school and educates and empowers every adult at school - from teachers to adminstrators to service staff such as cafeteria workers and custodians to volunteers - to take an active role in bullying prevention, awareness, and resolution. I'm sure that indicents still happen, but to my knowledge bullying is not a huge issue in elementary and middle school (I don't have any high schoolers yet). I think it's important to bring in school-wide programming so that every adult - especially teachers - hears and reinforces the same anti-bullying message and understandsand follows the same procedure for addressing incidents. The program also empowers and puts responsibility on other students to speak up and report incidents that they have witnessed. Finally, parent education is a part of this as well. Formal programs are a great way to get everyone on the same page and send a consistent message that our schools are a safe place for our children to learn in, free from intimidation, assault, etc.

    Posted by Jen February 12, 10 12:10 PM
  1. I think people are expecting too much from young children, at 6 or 7 most children don't understand "conflict resolution" and for the most part minor issues pass quickly if adults just let them be children they'll do what most children do and forget about it in an hour.

    Is the LW talking more about constant bullying than one time squabbles?

    Posted by JT February 12, 10 06:39 PM
  1. JT -- children at 6 or 7 do not understand conflict resolution. I agree absolutely. You seem to be saying that therefore, no need to teach them. That makes no sense. Or perhaps you misunderstand what bullying programs are -- they are programs that exist to teach kids good conflict resolution skills. I have trouble understanding how that is not a good thing -- if we want children to know how to solve problems without violence, and if we want children to understand the problems of bullying, we should integrate that into school systems and *teach* them.

    When people talk about bullying, they are not talking about minor and occasional squabbles between two kids, which is what you seem to be talking about. People are not up in arms about occasional squabbles -- it was not occasional squabbles that drove the poor girl in South Hadley to kill herself, and it is not a "squabble" when, in Waltham, a girl attacks a younger child with scissors and slams his head into a locker. To prevent issues like this -- because there is research that suggests kids are getting more violent than they were, say, 20 years ago -- bullying programs exist.

    To the LW, I ditto the idea of approaching the PTO. Go with some examples of good school bullying prevention programs, and see if you can get the PTO to agree to approach the principal as a group.

    Posted by jlen February 12, 10 09:03 PM
  1. While bullying may contribute tangentially to a drop out issue, it seems like an easy target to blame instead of bigger issues like poverty, parental involvement, and emphasis on education in the home.

    Posted by C February 13, 10 03:41 AM
  1. Unless teachers and building administrators take an active and pro-active stance with respect to bullying, any program a school puts into place is not going to work. Unless administrators follow written school policies with respect to consequences, the bullies will continue to feel enabled and empowered to target those students who are viewed as weak and weaker.

    In the case of Phoebe Prince, all of the print articles point towards teachers and high school administrators being aware of the in-school bullying, but of doing little to address the issue. I'm not even getting into the cyber-bullying aspect. My comments are strictly about what occurred in and around the building during those times when the school district had responsibility for Phoebe Prince's well-being and safety.

    How can a student be chased around the building, inside and out, during school hours without any teacher or administrator being aware?? South Hadley High School is not Brockton or Rindge & Latin; it is a very small school with a very small number of students.

    If school personnel really intend to address the epidemic of bullying within school walls, they need to get off their butts and do more than just talk. In South Hadley, administrators are already pushing people to move on. There can be no moving on until those administrators address what occurred during their watch. Without decisive consequences for those who bully, all else is meaningless.


    http://run4chocolate.wordpress.com

    Posted by sauerkraut February 15, 10 08:51 AM
  1. It seems it is time you start teaching your own children conflict resolution, and let the teachers focus on math.

    Posted by TheScarecrow February 15, 10 09:13 AM
  1. The PTO is limited by what the school/principal will let into the school. If the principal doesn't want/feel a need for an anti-bullying program, then the PTO is going to have difficulty getting one into the school. As a parent, you can support the PTO in this endeavor by attending a PTO meeting and presenting your program proposal and rationale, as the principal is present at those meetings.

    I am a PTO member, and our enrichment program consists only what the teachers/principals request- approve. They claim they have tried many programs over the years and this is what they have found that is both good and fits into the curriculum.

    Posted by resident99 February 15, 10 12:04 PM
  1. That's such important information to have, resident99, thanks for sharing it. I wonder what would happen if there really was a hue and cry from the PTO membership....?

    BFM

    Posted by Barbara F. Meltz Author Profile Page February 16, 10 09:25 AM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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