Signed by Governor Bevin last April, Senate Bill 228 defines bullying as “any unwanted verbal, physical, or social behavior among students that involves a real or perceived power imbalance and is repeated or has the potential to be repeated.” The website stopbullying.gov lists three types of bullying—verbal, social, and physical—and gives specific examples of each. It also explains that while “most reported bullying happens in the school building,” a substantial amount also occurs on the playground or the bus, on the Internet, or around the neighborhood. State legislature in Kentucky and 48 other states requires all school boards to have bullying policies in place, but the best defense is awareness for all.
The highest percentage of bullying occurs at the middle school level. Name calling and teasing happens most often, followed by spreading rumors, hitting, isolating, threatening, stealing, and making lude gestures or comments. Surprisingly, cyberbullying only accounted for about 10% overall according to stopbullying.gov even though it seems to be a media buzzword.
For these reasons, Chantay Taylor, the guidance counselor at Burns Middle School, started Sources of Strength: “a universal suicide prevention program designed to build socioecological protective influences around youth.” The SOS team includes 60 peer leaders and four trusted adults. At monthly meetings, they spread messages of hope, help and strength via social media, sidewalk-chalk messages, hallway posters, locker magnets and skits for assemblies. In November, the group organized a thankfulness campaign around the school. Eighth-grader Bethany Corley says the program “helps [adolescents] find their strengths rather than focus on their weaknesses.”
Some adolescents are more at-risk for being bullied than others, states stopbullying.org. These children might seem different from their peers based on their physical size, their mental ability, or even what they wear. Those seen as weak, having low self-esteem, or being less popular than others may also be easier targets. Or, maybe the student is new to a school. What these students need most is a support group.
Another program of student empowerment in the Daviess County Public School system is Burns Elementary’s Everyone Counts Council led by speech language pathologist, Larkin Wetzel. She says this group is “designed to focus on advocating for students with special needs in our building and in our community.” Their core values are acceptance, diversity, and empathy. Last semester’s activities included an annual Buddy Walk in September and attending the Apollo High School special services Christmas play. This spring they will participate in Wendell Foster’s “Respect Starts Now” campaign.
Angie Sorrells, a community educator for New Beginnings, travels to over 34 schools as well as summer camps, churches, businesses and other organizations throughout seven counties to provide anti-bullying programs. For elementary schools, she offers “Bullying Prevention” and for middle schools she shares “Be Brave,” a bystander prevention program. For high schools, she speaks about sexual harassment and the “Green Dot,” another bystander prevention program. An “Internet Safety” session which addresses cyberbullying is also available. If you are interested in learning more about any of these programs, you can contact Angie at 270-926-7273.
According to stopbullying.gov, at least 25% of students claim they have been bullied; unfortunately less than 1/3 of these children actually notified an adult. However, programs like Sources of Strength, Everyone Counts Council, and New Beginnings aim to decrease these numbers through awareness and a culture of respect. While the website also states that bullying prevention is difficult, the most successful programs involve parents, the school, and the community.