Stopping bullying before it escalates - Catholic Courier

Stopping bullying before it escalates

When Morgan Snyder and her friends see a fellow student at Notre Dame High School in Elmira sitting alone during lunch, they make an effort to invite him or her to join their circle of friends.

She and her friends are also willing to stick up for anyone who’s bullied, she added. And when they hear a nasty rumor about a fellow student, Morgan said she and her friends ignore it and don’t repeat it. However, if the rumor is about something serious — such as a student’s parents getting divorced — Morgan said she and her friends may approach the subject of the rumor and ask if he or she needs to talk to an adult about any perceived problem.

Whatever the situation, Morgan said that any victim of other students’ bullying or gossiping needs a few good friends.

"If you’re getting bullied, and you have a lot of friends, it kind of helps with the bad self-esteem you’re getting from being bullied," she said.

Morgan is a "Natural Helper," she said, a member of a student group of about 35 to 40 teenagers who meet three times a month to discuss how they can help their fellow students by listening to them and offering them assistance. Mercy Sister Mary Walter Hickey, principal, added that Notre Dame strives to create a welcoming atmosphere for all its students, and encourages teachers to keep an eye out for any bullying behavior.

Morgan and Sister Hickey belong to a growing army of students, educators and administrators who are no longer tolerating bullying in the nation’s schools. Bullying has increasingly become a concern of schools everywhere since the Columbine High School massacre of 1999, when two reportedly outcast students killed 12 of their peers as well as a teacher. In the years since, many schools have instituted zero-tolerance policies for bullying, disciplining students even for minor infractions. Many schools also list "cyber-bullying" — using the Internet or cell phones to send threatening messages — among the many ways a student can violate a school’s anti-bullying policy.

Educational professionals have also attended workshops on preventing bullying. One such conference took place at Bishop Kearney High School in Irondequoit on April 28. Attended by more than 200 Catholic-school and public-school employees, the conference was hosted by The Rose & Joseph Denaro Interfaith Center for the Study of Genocide and Violence Prevention, which is located at Kearney. Among the themes about bullying that emerged during presentations and panel discussions at the conference were the following:

* Bullying should not be confused with teasing, which assumes that the one being teased enjoys the joking. Bullying is behavior by one student toward another that results in the bullied person feeling afraid and intimidated.

* Students should be encouraged to report bullying to school authorities, so as to keep it from escalating into greater acts of violence.

* Students should be encouraged to stand up for other students whom they see are being bullied.

Several Catholic schools in the Diocese of Rochester have instituted formal and informal approaches to ending bullying. St. Pius Tenth in Chili, for example, added a counselor to its staff this year, in part to provide students with coping skills in dealing with bullying both inside and outside of school, according to Steve Oberst, principal. Meanwhile, Tim Leahy, principal of Siena Catholic Academy in Brighton, noted that the school has instituted a pledge taken by all students which emphasizes that they must show respect for their fellow students, treat others as they want to be treated and "represent my family and school in a Christian manner."

Christ the King School in Irondequoit has been developing an elaborate anti-bullying program for the past two years, according to Colleen D’Hondt, principal.

"Our main area of focus has been character development with all the students," D’Hondt said, outlining a variety of efforts to routinely award students for good behavior, from giving well-behaved students "good bags" filled with a pin, a pencil, a sticker and a bookmark, to publicly displaying photographs of such students. During the 2005-06 school year, a group of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders will meet to discuss ways to prevent bullying, and all the students will be encouraged to perform "5,000 Acts of Kindness," she said.

"Each time a student displays an act of kindness, the good deed will be written on a paper heart and the heart will be posted on the ‘Acts of Kindness’ bulletin board," D’Hondt said. Teachers will present rainbow pins to students who perform acts of kindness, she said, and one day a month students who have a rainbow pin will be allowed to dress down.

"The idea is to promote positive behavior — being proactive rather than reactive," she said.

One way to stop bullying is to ask students to figure out if they are bullies, noted Kristi Rood, social worker at Corpus Christi School at Blessed Sacrament in Rochester. Rood oversaw an anti-bullying program at Corpus over the past school year that involved educating teachers on the subject, as well as student education. Rood went into classrooms and spoke to children about how they behave toward each other. Among her tools was a questionnaire for the students that asked such questions as "Do you pick on people who are smaller than you, or on animals?" and "If you tease people, do you like to see them get upset?"

Some students are surprised to learn they may be bullies, she said, noting that she encouraged the children to follow the Golden Rule and treat others the way they want to be treated.

"I tell them, ‘You don’t have to like each other, but you have to get along with each other,’" Rood said.


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