The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 16, 2008

Efforts to combat school bullying make gains at the Carlisle School

The Carlisle School is finishing its third year of an anti-bullying program, and it appears to be working, according to Elementary Principal Patrice Hurley. Results of a student and teacher survey show an overall 10% decrease in reported bullying behavior for all grades compared to previous surveys.

Consequences of bullying

Bullying is an act which negatively singles out one or more persons. Acts include teasing, name calling, exclusion, threats, violent behavior and harassment. Bullying can isolate a student and lead to depression. Most incidents of bullying take place in areas that are less supervised, such as hallways, the dining room, on buses and on the playground, Hurley reported.

According to Middle School Principal Jim Halliday, bullying in Carlisle is not a huge problem. “It does not take up much of my time,” he admitted. One concern he had centered around teasing during lunchtime, and in September the groups that share lunch were changed to fifth/seventh, sixth/eighth. He said having the larger age differences meant that there was less competition for leadership.

Often it is not the victim but an observer who reports a bullying incident, explained School Counselor Kim Reid. The staff response is tailored to the particular type of offense. Generally, a counselor or principal will talk with the victim, said Reid. The student who did the bullying will be asked to meet with the principal and, in some cases, a counselor.

Depending on the age of the students involved and the severity of the bullying, consequences include a written reflection, apology, detention, community service, or suspension if the offense is severe. If violence or threats are involved, the police may be contacted. A behavior plan may be drawn up to guide the student doing the bullying. Parents may be contacted to determine if a home situation is affecting the student, and they may be offered help in modifying the student’s behavior. Director of Student Support Services Karen Slack said that teachers, administrators and counselors “check in” regularly with the victim to monitor the situation.

Is it bullying?

In some cases, although a child’s feelings may have been inadvertently hurt, an interaction with another student may not be a case of bullying. On a typical school morning one can hear friends teasing friends and see bumping and other roughhousing. Is this bullying?

Reid explained that support and understanding is part of the resolution of an incident when feelings are hurt. A misunderstanding or inappropriate but unintentional action may have occurred which led a student to feel bullied. “Some students are unaware of their body language,” she said as an example. Ignoring another student, crossing arms and staring, or walking away may be viewed as hurtful but do not necessarily constitute bullying, she explained.

A casual conversation with a fourth grader revealed the kind of choices kids make each day regarding bullying. The student said her friends sometimes tease her and she will tease back, but when it goes too far, she warns them to stop or she will tell the teacher. “They stop,” the child said. When asked if she reports the teasing, she said she does not. “I don’t think they mean it. I don’t get teased much like the other girls do,” she explained. Another situation was observed when students lined up for a trip to Spalding Field. The boys were full of energy and pretending to punch or kick each other. The girls clustered in small groups, talking. One girl stood by herself. Did the girl feel excluded? Did the “fake” punching and kicking constitute a bullying situation?

Special needs students

If a student with special needs has been accused of bullying, Slack said administrators will use “a degree of leeway,” and will consider if the behavior may be unintentional. All students are working on social skills, but for some special needs students, social skills are part of their handicap and must be learned. Students with special needs are not disproportionately involved in bullying, she added. Kris Tocci, chair of the Carlisle Parent Action Committee, agreed, saying she does not, on the whole, receive a large number of calls from parents about bullying. Both Slack and Tocci mentioned school staff has to be sensitive to whether a situation is unintentional. Unintentional bullying is still dealt with, added Slack.

Programs reinforce social skills

Appropriate social behavior and acceptance of differences is promoted through programs at all grade levels. Students who may appear “different” have the potential to be teased or singled out. The integrated preschool, which has a blend of regular and special needs students, is one place for good teacher/student conversations about differences, explained Slack. Preschoolers can be very direct when asking about the differences in students, she explained. “The teachers answer in a matter of fact way,” she said, keeping the explanations simple and supportive of differences.

The Open Circle (Kindergarten through fifth grade) and Advisory (sixth through eighth grade) groups meet once a week to promote leadership and acceptances of differences, and to decrease negative behaviors, said Reid. The curriculum includes sections on bullying and conflict resolution, community service, celebrating differences, changes in friendships and citizenship. Students who are less apt to speak out in a large group are given support to participate in the small groups, Reid explained.

Student-planned assemblies offer leadership opportunities. Slack said that this type of event encourages students to work cooperatively with others. For instance, the Middle School held a student talent show recently. In the past the assemblies have presented skits dealing with bullying. Slack noted that community service projects are another way to encourage students to work cooperatively with others.

The Middle School health curriculum includes a violence-prevention program called “Second Step.” The goal, explained Hurley, is to “educate how bullying hurts and how students can all help prevent, stop or respond to this behavior effectively, and seek adult help as needed.”

The school counselors meet once a week with “Friendship Groups,” a small lunchtime gathering of students. The focus includes building social skills, holding appropriate conversations and learning how to stand up for one’s self.

Issues monitored

The school is aware of students who have issues with social behavior, Halliday said. Slack said issues about bullying are discussed during the weekly Nursing, Administrative, and Guidance (NAG) department meetings. Issues are communicated to parents and teachers. ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito