RC schools to launch anti-bullying initiative, invites community in developing prevention plan
By Jon Tatting
At a school board meeting in May, a Rush City mother spoke with frustration the times her child was bullied by the same group of students since the beginning of the 2011-12 school year.
She talked about how the school handled the issue, which resulted in some consequences to the offending students. But it was not a quick fix for peace of mind, as she felt it necessary to address the superintendent.
Other parents have weighed in on the issue, too, along with students and school staff through a bullying survey conducted earlier in the year. The results showed that bullying is a concern at Rush City schools — especially on the bus, playground/recess, gym/hallways, cafeteria and classrooms.
And a prevention plan is taking shape to do away with the hurt.
In a recent district newsletter, Superintendent Vern Koepp noted Rush City schools has been committing much time and resources to understanding bullying, and the community has been invited to join teachers and administrators in such areas as developing a bullying prevention plan.
Bullying has been defined as when someone repeatedly and maliciously says or does mean or hurtful things to another. It can include verbal abuse, physical abuse, threats or intimidation and even cyber bullying, thanks to the popularity of the electronic world through texting and posting on social networking websites.
Beginning next fall, Rush City schools is going to address bullying through ongoing initiatives involving students, staff and the community at the high school. Similar and age appropriate curriculum will be put into place at Jacobson Elementary.
A caring environment
High school counselor Heidi Larson focuses on a student’s character and said the best way to combat bullying is by fostering a caring and overall positive environment where students feel safe, confident and good about themselves.
She’s excited about the bullying prevention plan and is particularly pleased the initiative will become student-driven, so kids can take ownership of the plan moving forward.
“Students have a big influence on each other,” she said.
If students, teachers and the community can work together in fostering a climate of caring and kindness, those characteristics will help create an atmosphere free from bullying, Larson added. “We need kids to want to be kind.”
Jennifer Henthorn is a PTO member and parent representative on the bullying prevention committee, which has met a handful of times since last fall in developing the bullying prevention plan. With two children at the elementary school, she wants to keep informed and make sure school is a safe place for students to learn.
Henthorn said the bullying prevention committee is taking a proactive approach, as Larson explained, by creating a positive culture in both schools so kids are not afraid of reporting a bullying incident or even the possibility of one. And there is a difference between tattling and telling, she emphasized, noting the latter keeps a harmful act from occurring or continuing.
Kids will respect a well kept, safe and hazard-free building, she stressed.
The bullying survey was the first step, said Henthorn, and there is a general consensus that parents and students do not realize the district already has a policy prohibiting bullying and handbooks outlining the consequences.
Parents also shared some comments in the survey. Here is just a sample:
“Quit playing favorites and treat all students equally regardless of their background or who their parents are.”
“My child has asked to transfer schools because of the bullying, and I am seriously considering it.”
“I don’t have any specific suggestions. The incident I referred to was addressed by the parents contacting the teachers, and it was quickly and effectively dealt with to our satisfaction. Good job on this incident. We no longer have any issues that I am aware of, other than some kids are just plain mean…”
“I have no idea, but I am thrilled that the conversation has started.”
“Is it possible to have helpers on the buses? There are a lot of students for only one person to be watching everything and everyone.”
“Bullying is certainly not something new, but seems to be a topic of great discussion because of all the media hype. Unfortunately all the hype has made this the latest politically correct thing for schools to spend time on.”
“In my opinion, schools do not need another initiative or program diverting attention away from basic education.”
“The preferred situation is where teachers and staff can be assured that they have the support of parents and community when it becomes necessary to deal with a student who is being abusive toward those around him/her.”
Besides Henthorn, the bullying prevention committee consists of school counselors, teachers and principals. The next step is to have a student sub committee at the high school, she noted.
“I think it’s great that (students, parents and community) are becoming aware of what’s being done,” said Henthorn. “We’re not doing it because it’s a buzz word or because it’s in the news. We want to prevent it from happening.”
Says Superintendent Koepp, “Rush City Schools is committed to providing all students with a safe learning environment that is free from bullying. In our effort to maintain a good learning environment we do not tolerate unlawful or disruptive behavior, including bullying, cyber-bullying or retaliation.”
Still, he added, “We need to do a better job of communicating our bullying policies and procedures to students, staff and parents. If we work together to reduce bullying we can maintain a very positive learning environment for students.”