Overcoming Bullying…Schools and Community Working Together

Nationally, as well as here in New Jersey, bullying has been in the news of late as a result of a number of tragic circumstances. In some respects, members of the general public hear of these incidents but continue with their busy lives. After all, hasn’t this despicable behavior been around since the beginning of time?  The serious nature of this topic only garners our attention when we are impacted. My purpose in writing on this topic is to illustrate how all of us are being impacted by this preventable phenomenon known as bullying.

For years, South Brunswick School District has taken great pride in providing “safe and caring” schools. One of the ways we have done so is through programs related to character education. Our elementary schools work with the Responsive Classroom Program, a national initiative that operates on the premise that children learn best when they are provided with both academic and social-emotional skills. The program seeks to emphasize the core values of cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy and self-control. Developmental Designs operates in similar fashion in both Middle Schools, while the High School utilizes a model gleaned from the Institute for Excellence and Ethics and embeds these lessons in all our courses. The key ingredient to each of these approaches is that of staff commitment.  As a District, we believe that our students benefit most when they learn about character education through the emphasis on core values and adult modeling. The inevitable “teachable moments” are best recognized by staff members that have been provided with strong and effective character education programs and the professional development training to best utilize them. As a District, we devote much time and many resources to character education. This is an important part of our commitment to educating the “whole” child.

In addition to these character education approaches, we have a student code of conduct that is age-appropriate in design and centered on logical consequences. By taking this avenue, we are doing more than correcting unacceptable behavior. The code of conduct embeds our core values into each student behavioral infraction so that the logical consequence reinforces the desired belief and behavior. In addition, every October, during Violence Awareness Week, we provide outreach to law enforcement to jointly plan and assist us in helping our students better understand the importance of appropriate behavior and self-control. I am sure that you can sense, through these descriptions, a more than passing commitment to teaching young people about acceptable behavior.

The District has had an anti-bullying policy for many years with the present iteration entitled, Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying.  This Board of Education policy mirrors the statutory and regulatory requirements that are mandated by the state. In ensuring this compliance, the District changed the policy three times in the past two years to match changes made by the state and the Prosecutor’s Office. A major reason for these changes is the impact that technology and social networking have had on promoting bullying. Facebook, texting and YouTube have provided tools for the bully. Known as cyber attacks, some young people have turned the power of the electronic world into a relentless assault on other youngsters. While these “attacks” routinely take place outside of school, the fall-out typically has implications for our schools and staff. In an effort to educate our students about responsible and acceptable use, we begin teaching cyber safety as early as second grade. Despite our best efforts, we regularly get involved in cyber offenses committed by students against students.

Hopefully, I have offered a clear and comprehensive view of a problem that the schools can’t solve alone. We need help. While many resources are committed to educating young people about the ills of bullying, some students persist in this hurtful behavior. Sometimes adults turn away when they see or hear of bullying occurring. Until we all get involved, the problem will continue. Let’s all lend support to ending this behavior because the next victim could be someone you love.

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Please Note: The South Brunswick Parent Academy plans an important workshop: Bullying & Your Child: What’s a Parent to do? This workshop will be presented Wednesday, February 9, 2011, 7:00 PM at Crossroads North Middle School. For more information about this workshop as well as others, please visit South Brunswick Parent Academy.

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