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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Bullying On The NBCC Front Burner

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Friday, February 10, 2006

Ruth Evert of the Center for Healthy Communities
North Adams - Participation was strong during a Feb. 10 Northern Berkshire Community Coalition bullying forum.

School administrators, students, community service agency staff, law enforcement officers, and area residents all put forth their ideas about what bullying is and the problems it presents.

Ruth Evert of the Center for Health Communities was among the guests and she emphasized the need for early prevention.

"If a school calls and says 'we have a problem in the seventh grade, I say 'what are you doing in your elementary school,'" Evert said.

According to Evert, intervention measures are effective up until the third grade; if those steps haven't been initiated by that point, it may be much more difficult to turn the tide of bullying.

"After that, it's damage control," she said. "If there's bullying in middle school, it started years and years ago."

Bullies and those being bullied may pay a steep price for the behavior, Evert said, and noted that bullied students are often fearful while in school and that fear is disruptive to learning. Bullies often continue their aggressive behaviors and in many cases, find themselves with three criminal convictions by the time they are 24 years old, she said.

"It's really about building social and emotional competency," Evert said.

Bullying prevention efforts should emphasize social awareness, self-management, development of relationship skills, and responsible decision-making, she said. Evert noted that 50 percent of the skills identified as necessary for the 21st century job market are social and emotional skills. Schools need to find ways to bring those components to curriculum, she said.

Formal anti-bullying programs with names such as "Second Step" and "Al's Pals" may be helpful, Evert said. Most anti-bullying programs emphasize impulse control, problem-solving and communication skills. In addition to teaching specific skills, policies against bullying must be in place and "remedial" measures that can be "therapeutic," such as counseling, must be in place as well, she said.

Families must be involved in anti-bullying strategies and parents may participate in programs that demonstrate ways to fight bullying, Evert said.

And adult mentoring can make a big difference in reducing incidents of bullying, she said.

"But it can't be just once in a while, it has to be a commitment," she said.

According to Evert, the Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that children under age two watch no television at all. Evert said that research indicates that whether a tot is watching "Sesame Street" or "an NYPD Blue type program," there is a correlation between television viewing during infancy and bullying at a later time.

Charles H. McCann Technical School Assistant Principal Barbara Malkas said that she doesn't like the term "bullying."

"I really worry when we use the word 'bullying,'" she said. "People equate it with school yard behavior. It gives it a child-like connotation. Let's call it harassment, let's call intimidation, let's call it what it is."


High school student Caitlyn Mazza
Students weighed in on the matter; Caitlyn Mazza, a sophomore at Hoosac Valley High School said that students at the high school engage in harassment but when she was younger "it was more hitting."

Another student commented that bullying occurs when a student is spotlighted for a positive accomplishment; other students may ridicule that student or use other means to diminish the student's feelings of accomplishment. Drury High School student Kimberly Rose said that some bullying focuses on students who are viewed as "underdogs."

"I remember a lot of picking on people who were considered the underdog," she said. "I'm confused as to why that happens."

And bullying apparently is witnessed in day care and Head Start programs all the way through to high school and beyond, said several discussion participants, who also noted that it is often a school's most popular students who are "bullies."

Eloise Stevens is a Head Start program administrator.

"You see children having difficulties, kind of imitating super heroes and demonstrating aggressive behaviors," she said. "Teachers have to be in tune to that, getting children to use words instead of actions."

Evert noted that "I'm not sure that we've had really good role models. Things are kind of piece-mealed together in the schools and the community."

That observation plucked a response from Community Service Learning Coordinator Deb Roselli. Anti-bullying programs and techniques have been implemented at city schools time and again, only to be compromised or halted when funds for the programs are eliminated, she said.

"The schools are unable to implement consistent programs," she said. "We respond to crisis all the time."

But Jana Brule said that it doesn't require money for teachers to step in and insist on respectful behaviors. Brule said that she is aware of an uncomfortable situation developing in a second grade classroom. The behavior surrounds one girl who is "picking on" another girl, and the behavior is affecting a third girl, who is a bit upset by the situation.

Brule said that when she called the matter to the teacher's attention, she was told that all the children in that age group behave that way. The teacher further stated that she usually ignores the behavior, Brule said.

Asking for teacher intervention or help with a classroom situation "doesn't have to be a school-wide initiative," and doesn't require much financing, Brule said.

Mount Greylock Regional High School Principal Ellen Kaiser said that teachers cannot be expected to catch everything that goes on in a classroom when the classrooms contain 25 to 30 students, and parents do not help send an anti-bullying message when they undermine teachers in front of their children. She also noted that some students can be found on-line at 2 a.m. harassing each other.

And Liz Shiner, an advocate with the Elizabeth Freeman Center, said that the nation is filled with bullies.

"Our president is a bully," she said. "Our country is a bully. Our athletes are bullies. And we vote for these bullies."

Several students said that there is confusion about what constitutes bullying, and also said that when kids see bullying taking place, someone should speak up and say "hey dude,that's not cool."

"Expectations" of bullying should be changed, students said.

Williamstown School Resource Officer Tania Hernandez noted that bullied students do not usually make contact with police about an incident. Police more often learn of a problem via school administrators. There are situations that can be resolved without court intervention, and other cases require court attention, she said.

School administrators, in some cases, make the call about how a specific situation will be handled, said North Adams police Lt. David Sacco.

"In many cases, it's how does the school want to go, how do the parents want to go," Sacco said. "Does the school want to keep it in-house? Its a case by case basis."

Certain situations, such as stabbings or similarly violent assaults, would be treated as a crime and involve the courts, he said.

And while some students believed that youth could and should intervene at the time of a bullying incident through verbally objecting to the behavior or defining it as "not cool," students should not be involved in any mediation efforts.

Charles H. McCann Technical High School Assistant Principal Barbara Malkas makes a point during a discussion about bullying.


Rose said that she once was involved in a bullying intervention.

"It can be a good tool," she said. "But the person [being bullied]dumbed down what was said and it was hard to get to what happened."

Peer mentoring, which is different from peer mediation, may be effective in reducing bullying, according to several discussion participants.

NBCC Executive Director Alan Bashevkin noted that many ideas and thoughts had been broached during the discussion. He acknowledged that most young people watch and learn from the people around them, including adults.

"What we put out is what we'll get back," he said.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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