Bullies in schools face reality
“Children learn bullying behavior because it is all around them in their environment and they think it is acceptable,” said Cottonwood Valley Charter School principal Karin Williams. “Bullying can start at home because children can learn bullying from their parents.”
Williams said bullying is a learned behavior from adults and the world around children. There is bullying inside and outside of the classroom.
“Something adults need to think about is their own behavior around the child,” Williams said. “Children can view bullying on television and radio; all teachers and adults need to model respectful behavior, and need to not use bullying to get things done.”
Adults need to realize they are models for their children at all times, she said. And most important of all, the child needs to feel they have a close relationship with a teacher at school. It is important all adults interact with children.
According to Williams, at Cottonwood Valley Charter School teachers are always walking around the classroom. They overhear and observe the children and pay attention to the students. When Williams has recess duty, she looks around to see what is going on with the children, she said.
Bullying can be prevented by being observant and being aware, Williams said.
“Prevention is knowing your students very well,” she said. Williams also encourages students to stand up for other students who are victims of bullying.
“I am a believer in knowing my students and school,” Williams said. “When things happen, I deal with it.”
Williams said the different forms of bullying are verbal or relational, which cause damage to students who are ostracized from a group. She will talk to students about how they can all be friends. She said when there is an imbalance of power, one child feels he or she has more power than the other. The ones who are bullied can’t always defend themselves.
Williams said she talks with students who are bullied, asking what they believe is helpful. She will also talk to the child who is doing the bullying.
During her first year as principal, Williams suspended children over bullying and, as a consequence, she has an in-school suspension policy. She said a student in suspension must sit in her office and can’t go back to class until they have taken responsibility for their actions. They also follow a behavior contract. According to the discipline plan, the behavior contract is written by the student and is mutually agreed upon by the student, classroom, parent, principal and teacher of how they will behave in the future.
Cottonwood’s discipline plan requires an agreement that students need to honor themselves and others, take responsibility for their own actions, work toward their best behavior and listen and be heard. According to the policy, each teacher is also responsible for teaching students what these expectations look like in their classroom.
Williams meets with family and teachers, and works with students from elementary to middle school to improve the policies over the years.
“When I was bullied, I went to teachers,” said Cottonwood Valley eighth-grader Amy Olsen. “Some didn’t do anything. Then, I went to my mom and she put me in a new school.”
Olsen was a bully victim in elementary school. She said she experienced it when she was in the first grade. Other kids would make fun of her reading and because she had short hair. Students would call her “little boy.” Olsen said as you get older, other girls just want to fight you. She has friends outside of Cottonwood Valley Charter School and is afraid to try out for basketball at Sarracino Middle School because some of the girls over there don’t like her. She doesn’t know why and it seems to her to be for no reason.
Olsen said as you get older, girls bully more, and when she was little it was boys and girls.
“Stay strong,” Olsen said. “Be who you are. Love yourself. Don’t care what people think. You are perfect just the way you are.”
According to the National Education Association website, bullying affects one in three American school children in grades six through 10. Boys identified as bullies in grades six through nine had one criminal conviction by age 24. The website also states 40 percent of those identified as bullies had three or more arrests by age 30.
Bullies are even at greater risk of suicide than their victims. The website also states students who are targets of repeated bullying behavior experience extreme fear and stress. They have a fear of going to school, a fear of going to the bathroom and a fear of riding the bus to and from school.
Socorro High School principal Jennifer Molina said staff members and faculty members go over the Socorro Consolidated Schools Anti-Bullying Policy with each individual class at the beginning of the school year. Students who are victims of bullying can fill out a complaint form if they don’t feel comfortable talking with faculty or staff face to face, she said. The Socorro Consolidated Schools Anti-Bullying Policy states bullying is any repeated and pervasive written, verbal or electronic expression, physical act or gesture, or a pattern thereof that is intended to cause distress upon one or more students in the school, on school grounds, in school vehicles, at a designated bus stop or at school activities or sanctioned events.
“Our students feel comfortable talking to us,” Molina said. “Students who are uncomfortable need to come to us immediately so we can take care of it.”
She said faculty and staff supervise students throughout the day. The types of bullying she witnessed included students calling each other names. Some students felt uncomfortable, and the bullies were brought in immediately; she called home and it stopped after that, Molina said. There was also one situation where there was going to be a fight at the school. One of the students who was aware notified a faculty member and a fight was stopped before it could happen because immediate action was taken, Molina said. The staff are good at monitoring and talking to the students, she said. They monitor the students in the hallways and at lunch time.
“Teachers will let us know. We don’t accept (bullying) at our school,” Molina said. “We discuss bullying monthly. If they don’t tell us, we don’t know how to help them.”
Molina says bullying starts with peer pressure and what they see on television.
Molina said students respond well when bullying is discussed. She wants the students to feel safe in their environment.
“There are challenges of being a kid,” she said. Faculty and staff try to be the best support system for the students.
Families and parents are welcome at the school to visit and observe.
“My best advice for students who are being bullied is to find an adult they are comfortable with, or write a note to an administrator,” Molina said. “Let us know — because that’s the only way we can help you.”