This was written by Dana Smith, of Waddington, N.Y. ,a member of the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services and a member of the board of directors of the New York State School Boards Association.
By Dana Smith
Bullying is, obviously, a problem in our nation’s schools. Sometimes it leads to suicides or lawsuits, and that ends up making headlines. Bullying can also coast under the radar of adults in the form of social ostracizing, taunting and catty postings on the Internet.
Bullying can and does happen in cafeterias, auditoriums, gymnasiums and school recreation areas. It can happen during chorus rehearsal, extracurricular activities and even advanced placement classes.
I now realize that I was bullied on many occasions when I was a student in a small, upstate, rural central school. I was short and “big boned” in stature and came from a poor socio-economic family. I can remember putting on my clothes in the morning and knowing that I would be viewed differently by my classmates and the other students in the school, as they often made comments about my size and my appearance. It contributed to what I now realize was low self-esteem. While that prompts many students to turn inward, it motivated me to make “friends” and be part of a group.
Although I met with some success, even in my social circle there was ridicule, which contributed to a feeling of inferiority on my part. I’m not sure there was any way for teachers, administrators and parents to have realized this because I did my best to prevent them from observing it.
Now I’m a school board member and therefore in a position to address the issue of bullying. What have we been doing about this problem?
Assemblies have been held for students and professional development opportunities have been provided for staff. Peer counselors have been trained.
In many school districts, anti-bullying programs are part of the curriculum. The National School Boards Association and my state school board association have offered many seminars on legal and organizational approaches to the bullying problem. School policies have been written and rewritten to try to prevent bullying and ensure it can be swiftly addressed when it does occur.
How much is enough? When bullying stops, it will be enough.
Bullying offends each of us as compassionate human beings. It is inimical to the educational process and potentially exposes the district to liability.
The first step is to stop underestimating the size of the problem. It’s happening in schools and on school buses every day. Adults have to be alert and intervene appropriately.
The questions every school leader needs to ask are: What are we doing about bullying? What else can we do?
I believe I can make a difference as a school board member. When the school board cares about an issue, it sends a message that reverberates throughout the district. Every school and school district needs a culture that does not tolerate bullying. Even the subtle forms.
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