Bullying is one of the hottest topics in the public education arena, and local schools are taking a proactive approach to dealing with the issues it can create for students.
Rohanen Middle School and Richmond Transitional School are among those to host “bully-free” weeks at their schools recently. During these week-long observances, students have been provided with numerous opportunities to discuss bullying and how it interferes with education.
According to the website, www.makebeatsnotbeatdowns.org, bullying impacts nearly 4.7 million students in America. Bullying can take on a number of forms including physical contact, verbal communication, intimidation or indirect bullying, such as spreading rumors. In today’s technologically savvy environment, cyber-bullying has also become an increasing problem.
The Richmond County Board of Education prohibits bullying in Richmond County schools as outlined in policy 1710/4021/7230 – Prohibition Against Discrimination, Harassment and Bullying. Students can face up to 10 days of out-of-school suspension for bullying their peers at school. Superintendent George Norris said the goal of the policy is designed to prevent distractions from student learning.
“Our goal is to always maintain a safe learning environment for our students and staff, and bullying is unacceptable in our schools,” said Norris. “Any student who believes he or she is experiencing bullying should report incidents to the principal or assistant principal at his or her school.
“At the beginning of each school year, we issue a handbook to every student that outlines the procedures students and employees should follow in filing a complaint about any form of harassment or bullying. We also provide detailed information on the consequences for students who engage in this behavior at each grade level,” Norris said.
Activities during bully-free week at both schools ranged from simple gestures, such as students wearing wrist bands and decorating classroom doors, to more interactive projects, including the creation of broadcasts, interactive skits and research projects on bullying that students worked on during their enrichment periods. Events at both schools culminated with a visit from Shirley Townsend, general supervisor with NC Mentor. NC Mentor is a behavioral health organization that specializes in working with at-risk youth.
Townsend spoke to the students about the importance of doing their part to ensure a positive environment at their schools.
“Bullying is about power,” Townsend said, while speaking to students at Rohanen Middle. “They are created by their environment and 9 times out of 10, those who start bullying were at some point bullied themselves.”
Sixth graders who listened to Townsend’s presentation acknowledged that they have a role to play in putting a stop to bullying among their peers.
“The most important thing I’ve learned is that if I see someone getting bullied, and I don’t do anything about it, that I’m just as bad as the guy that’s doing it,” Nicholas Brown, sixth grade student said.
Another student, Byron McKenzie, said he thought Townsend’s message was good for the entire student body to hear.
“She showed us how bullying hurts people by letting us see a crumpled piece of paper, and how even when you try to straighten it out, a lot of the wrinkles are still there,” he said.
Susana Franco, Title I parent liaison for Richmond County Schools, arranged for Townsend to also speak with parents of students at both schools. Franco said parents also play a big role in helping their children prevent bullying. She and Townsend recommend parents spend time talking with their students about bullying, and their role in making sure it doesn’t happen to them, or anyone else.
Richmond County Transitional Principal Susan Brigman said she continues to be pleased to see that lessons learned from the bully-free week are still impacting students.
“I was very pleased to see how much awareness was raised around bullying, and how deeply it impacted the students at our school. It was powerful to see students realize that you don’t have to be a (certain type of) teenager in high school to be a victim of bullying. It can happen to anyone.”
Brigman arranged a follow-up visit for her students with Townsend last week to address conflict resolution in a positive way. Franco will be assisting other schools in scheduling bully-free activities throughout the remainder of the school year.