October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Spreading awareness with various innovative measures, it is aimed at creating a world safe from bullying.
According to the national statistics on the Unites States official website on bullying, stopbullying.gov, between one in four and one in three students in United States have been bullied at school, with the majority falling in the age group 12-18.
Though there is a growing awareness around the problem of bullying and studies suggest a decrease in the rate of bullying, it still remains a prevalent issue in today’s schools.
“It is a very important and valuable effort to raise awareness on the issue of bullying,” said Patricia Marquez, Safe and Healthy Schools Specialist with Santa Clara County Office of Education. “We need to create change and reduce the climate of bullying by providing a solid understanding of what bullying is.”
Many proactive schools across Santa Clara County are developing special awareness initiatives to address the serious issue of bullying.
“When we educate ourselves, we are better equipped to recognize and respond appropriately,” Marquez added. “This also enables us to change the way in which we respond to the issue of bullying. Instead of focusing on what we are trying to stop, we need to focus on what we are trying to create, which is: kindness, acceptance, compassion and respect.”
Unfortunately, though efforts are claimed to be taken, Santa Clara County does not have representative data on the number of cases of bullying nor whether the rate is increasing or decreasing. County officials are still working on collecting data to capture an accurate count.
The Santa Clara County Office of Education is now encouraging schools to participate in the California Healthy Kids Survey, which would provide valuable data relating to perception of student safety and addresses bullying specifically.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 2016, nearly 19 percent of bullied students tend to develop low self-esteem and bad personal relationships, and it has negative effect on their school work (14 percent) and physical health (9 percent). The Center for Disease Control, 2015 also states that students who experienced bullying are at increased risk for anxiety, depression and sleep difficulties.
“In partnership with the Public Health Department of Santa Clara County, the Safe and Healthy Schools Department of the Santa Clara County Office of Education is currently the lead for the violence and bullying prevention priority under the Children’s Health Improvement Plan,” Marquez added. “Under this work plan we are assessing the implementation of bullying prevention efforts and positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS) throughout the county.”
The PACER Bullying Prevention Center has been disseminating innovative resources at a local level to students, educators and parents, helping communities understand the importance of supporting students who have been targeted by bullying and changing the perception of bullying. PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center also reaches out to communities through partnerships with private companies and education based organizations such as the National PTA, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.
Judy French works in PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center in Los Angeles. They have been working since 2006 to change the culture around bullying.
“For actual change to happen,” said French. “There should be a consistent and correct effort to address the issue. Schools can achieve it with a systematic plan on educating what bullying is and what conditions can reduce bullying.”
French also says that anti-bulling initiatives are only in the forefront for a month instead of being a continuous process that should be carried over from one academic year to another.
“When adults in schools promote and model the behaviors important to create healthier communities, bullying has a harder time taking hold,” said French. “They should also ensure that their faculty and staff are trained in research-based best practices in regard to bullying prevention and understand their role in demonstrating pro-social behaviors.”
Apart from raising awareness on the issue, there is an emphasis on empathy in lessons on how to deal with conflict and how to express feelings. Many organizations have developed initiatives to not just spread awareness but also educate students on how to support each other and deal with bullying.
“An important concept is helping students and adults learn how to be an UPstander versus a bystander when they witness a conflict. This is taught through role-plays, videos and books that help students recognize the dynamic, practice what to say and how to seek help from caring adults at their school,” asserted Anne Ehresman, Executive Director, YMCA Project Cornerstone.
Project Cornerstone works with schools to prevent and address bullying behavior. They have over 4,500 parent volunteers reaching over 85,000 students in classrooms each month, teaching them how to deal with conflict, express their feelings and how to be an UPstander.
Project Cornerstone also has over 1,500 youth directly trained in the Expect Respect workshop to be leaders on their elementary and middle school campuses to create an environment where everyone belongs and feels safe. They plan to extend support for middle schools by trying to inculcate lessons right from public elementary schools. They aim to cover all public elementary schools from Redwood City to Gilroy by 2020.
“The attitude of people should also change from considering bullying as a natural part of growing up or expected rite during childhood passage, or even expressions like ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘words will never hurt you’ should be revised,” said French. “It is high time that we stand up and fight against the severe issue of bullying.”