Bully beware: A serious issue takes center stage

By Marsha Sutton

Contributor

In an attempt to bring more focus on the chronic problem of bullying in schools, local California Assembly member Ben Hueso introduced a resolution declaring March to be School Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. The resolution, which was heard in Sacramento March 25, passed.

A related bill sponsored by Hueso, AB 630, would establish programs to train teachers and educators to spot bullying and provide techniques for prevention and intervention.

According to the resolution, bullying in California causes 160,000 students to miss school every day due to “fear of attack or intimidation by their peers.” It states that “both bullies and their victims are more likely to drop out of school and engage in unlawful activity.” School violence and suicides have also, famously, been connected to bullying.

An article in the Aug. 26, 2010 issue of this newspaper reported on bullying at Solana Santa Fe School in Fairbanks Ranch. The bullying, which was primarily confined to a group of fourth-grade girls, triggered at least one parent to pull her child out of SSF and prompted the Solana Beach School District to take a deeper look at the problem.

As a result, last fall the school implemented the “Second Step” program which includes lesson plans for each particular grade level. Teachers and administrators have been trained, and they say the program has helped raise awareness and given educators strategies to reduce bullying behaviors.

Principal Julie Norby, in a Feb. 24, 2011 article in this newspaper, said a survey taken at the beginning of this school year indicated that 56 percent of students reported being bullied occasionally, 20 percent once or twice a week, and 12 percent almost every day. Eighty percent of the bullying was name-calling or teasing, she said. Norby plans to conduct another survey at the end of the year to evaluate the effectiveness of the Second Step program.

Solana Santa Fe, serving students in kindergarten through sixth grade, also released an anti-bullying policy this year that outlines consequences for bullying behavior and asks students to sign a pledge to refuse to bully or let others bully, and to report bullying when witnessed.

Skyline School in Solana Beach and Solana Pacific in Carmel Valley also have similar policies for students to sign. Skyline serves fourth, fifth and sixth grades, and Solana Pacific serves fifth and sixth grades only.

Bullying workshop

SBSD counselor Mary Marun attended a March 15 workshop on bullying, sponsored by the San Diego County Office of Education and the Chula Vista Police Department. SDCOE said the workshop filled early with a maximum of 70 participants, so another session will be held May 16.

The half-day workshop, called “Best Practices in Bullying Prevention,” was led by SDCOE’s Project Specialist for Student Support Services, Mara Madrigal-Weiss, who said old assumptions about bullying are still being used but are ineffective. These include tactics like peer mediation, conflict resolution, posters declaring a bully-free zone, and bringing the bully and victim together to “work it out.”

Madrigal-Weiss, who claims bullying is happening in every district and every campus, collaborated with Chula Vista Police Dept. Public Safety Analyst Melanie Culuko to explain national trends in bullying and successful research-based tactics to reduce and prevent it.

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