After the article came out in The Boston Globe the other day about my cause and website, I received an email from Sue, a professional journalist that also dealt with bullying issues in Lexington, MA when she was growing up there. Sue went on to be a professional journalist and wrote several articles for the Albuquerque Tribune in New Mexico about bullying which I thought were excellent. I asked her if I could share them here and she agreed. Thank you, Sue, for contacting me and sharing these articles. ~Alan Eisenberg
LESSON IN TORMENT
By Sue Vorenberg
a Scripps Howard Paper
STANDING UP TO BULLIES
First of two parts
J.R. knows what it’s like to be grabbed, hit and pushed on the schoolyard. He’s not alone: At least one child in 10 is bullied every day, and the effects can be devastating for victim and victimizer.
The sick feeling of fear filled the 8-year-old boy’s stomach as soon as his foot hit the playground at Arroyo del Oso Elementary School. His eyes flicked from side to side. Hell was coming. Again.
J.R. Trujillo knew it, expected it, waited for it. Those boys bigger than him, stronger than him, were out there, somewhere, waiting for their own form of recess recreation. He tried to hide, but it didn’t matter. Inevitably, they saw him, grabbed him, hit him and pushed him against a nearby wall. “Fatso,” they jeered. “Chubby.”
Back in his Albuquerque Public Schools classroom, he couldn’t concentrate. Fear consumed his mind as his grades dropped ever lower.
Maybe he should try hiding inside a trash can next time, he wondered. Maybe he could climb a tree. But maybe, he thought, maybe there was nothing anybody could do to help him.
“The hardest part of being bullied is they really torture you,” J.R. said, nervously looking at the floor. “You really don’t want to go back to school. You really don’t want to go back to places where you remember bad things.”
Every day in America, at least one child in 10 is teased, pushed, hit or otherwise tormented at school, according to recent studies by the University of New Mexico and Boston College.
Such behavior, once an accepted part of growing up, is slowly being recognized as dangerous to everyone involved. According to those recent studies, it can ruin the learning environment in a school and cause lifelong psychological and physical damage to victims, bullies and bystanders.
In extreme cases, it has led to murder and suicide.
Fortunately for J.R., his school and a friend found a way to stop the torment before it went too far by defending him and dealing with the situation.
About two years ago, when his problems were at their worst, counselor Lucinda McConnell introduced the school’s first bully-proofing program, designed by the University of Colorado. This year, she has stepped it up, adding a second program designed by the University of Oregon.
The programs teach children how to resolve their own problems and treat one other with respect.
McConnell combined the programs with other tactics, such as meetings with the bullies and J.R., to teach them about the harm bullying can do.
Now a 10-year-old in the fifth grade, J.R. says he feels like the pressure has lifted.
“If you didn’t help me, they’d still be bugging me,” he said to McConnell as they sat in her office. “I wouldn’t have any friends. I’d have to hide all the time. I’ll never forget it. It was really hard.
“I’m really glad it stopped.”
Alone – and targeted
School shootings, suicides and incidents where students have been beaten to death plague schools around the nation.
About two-thirds of school shooters said they felt bullied or persecuted for long periods before resorting to drastic actions.
That prolonged exposure is one of the biggest threats facing schools, said Ginny Gillmer, head of violence and bullying prevention programs at Albuquerque Public Schools.
“Early exposure to violence and terror can do a lot of damage to a child,” Gillmer said. “Research now suggests it can permanently change the structure of a child’s brain. The lack of safety they feel – that’s a real barrier to learning and the consequences can last a lifetime.”
Bullying comes in many forms, but in general it is a situation where negative actions – name-calling, social isolation, violence – are used to give the bully power over the victim.
Bullies chose J.R., McConnell says, because he didn’t have many friends and was often alone at recess. The names they called him were secondary, chosen to hurt him only after they decided he was a good target.
“So much of bullying is about isolation,” McConnell said. “It’s a huge key. If a child is alone, isolated in some way, or has poor social skills, they often become a target.”
McConnell knows what it takes to be a target. She used to be one. “My hair was lit on fire in French class up in Santa Fe one time,” she said. “I remember being terrified, not believing my nose. I put my hand up and felt my hair, and it was burned. I didn’t say anything for the rest of class.”
Bullying behaviors are most severe in early elementary school and junior high school, although they happen in every grade and even in the workplace.
J.R. spent almost a year as a grade school victim. During that time, he pretended he was sick as much as possible to avoid going to school. At one point, he tried to run away from home.
“He came home from school so frustrated that he decided to pack his bags and leave,” said his mother, Lorraine Trujillo. “I was terrified. I found him in the park about 20 minutes later, but it was the scariest 20 minutes of my life.
“Afterward, I just hugged him. I don’t think I ever held him as tight as I did that day. He must have been in so much pain, so angry, hurt and frustrated.”
Then help arrived.
Josh Weaver, a fellow Cub Scout whom J.R. didn’t know well, started to stick up for him, telling the bullies to cut it out.
That, along with the McConnell’s efforts in the classroom and in private meetings, persuaded the bullies to stop, J.R. said.
“I really hated school for a while. It was hard to recover from the teasing,” he said. “When Josh helped me, it really made a difference. He helped me to get some self-confidence and stand up to the bullies myself. I was trying to do that all along, but I just couldn’t get it out of my mouth.”
J.R. says he’s much happier now. He has been on the school’s honor roll ever since the bullying stopped.
“He seems to have come out of it a totally different child,” Trujillo said. “His grades have been much better. He’s got more confidence. He’s protective of his friends and his brothers and sisters.
“He doesn’t want anyone else to get hurt. He’s been through that.”
Fewer bullies, better grades
To end bullying, schools, teachers, parents and students must become involved in anti-bullying programs, McConnell and Gillmer said.
Several universities have created such programs, although the commitment to them and funding varies, Gillmer said.
“It’s a complex issue, and you have to address it on several levels,” she said. “Violence is growing more and more tolerated by society. There’s less supervision at home, especially with the rise of single mothers and two-income families. Class sizes are growing bigger. It’s a hard thing to fight.”
APS gets $646,000 a year for all of its safety and drug-free school activities about $7 a student for everything from drug prevention to gun safety to anti-bullying. Trujillo says she feels blessed Arroyo del Oso had a program in place. Most schools don’t.
“Lucinda met with the kids and the classes, the teachers got involved and even the principal got involved, and everyone did a great job,” she said. “It was like knowing we were part of a team. We were all fighting it, and that was comforting.”
State and federal governments are starting to take notice, and new funding has been proposed for the coming year, Gillmer said.
That isn’t because of the psychological damage of bullying, McConnell said, but because experts have noticed a correlation between bully-prevention programs and higher grades.
“Bully-proofing is a fairly new development in New Mexico, and it hasn’t been applied at every school,” she said. “But people are starting to talk about it.
“My thinking is the district is going to make this the next big thing. With more resources, we could really make a difference.”
About 30 percent of U.S. children have been bullied or are bullies. At least one child in 10 is teased, pushed, hit or otherwise tormented at school every day.
20 percent of students say they feel scared throughout the day because of bullies.
About 160,000 students miss school every day to avoid being bullied.
Roughly two-thirds of school shooters said they had been persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked or injured at school.
Bullies identified by age 8 are six times more likely to be convicted of a crime by age 24 and five times more likely to end up with serious criminal records by age 30. 71 percent of teachers or other adults in classrooms ignore bullying incidents.
Sources: Journal of School Health, National Resource Center for Safe Schools, Education Week and the Maine Project Against Bullying
THE RED FLAGS
Among the warning signs a child is being bullied: falling grades; avoiding favorite activities; avoiding social situations; having unexplained illnesses or injuries; asking for extra money; losing possessions.
Cry for help goes out to parents, teachers, all
STANDING UP TO BULLIES
The worst way to stop a bully is to ignore the situation.
So says Judith Vessey, a nursing professor at Boston College who has been working with the University of New Mexico’s College of Nursing on the effects of teasing and bullying among children.
Children who become victims of bullies, she says, need help from teachers, parents and other students. The problem is too hard and too dangerous for a child to face alone.
“Schools should basically demand behaviors and policies that don’t tolerate nasty behavior, and teachers have to be included in that,” she said. “Everyone has to be trained. Sometimes, teachers themselves can be the bullies. Those policies should also include all of the children, bus drivers, other school staff and parents. It has to be a community fight.”
Alone, a bullied child can grow progressively frustrated, start to hate school, lose interest in hobbies, Vessey said. He or she can fall into depression, become suicidal or resort to violence, she said.
“Children need role models,” she said. “They watch how adults around them behave. If a parent is bullying his way through life, they may mimic that behavior. If a parent does nothing, that also sends a message to the child.”
Parents should talk to their children about problems with bullies and try to help them understand the situation. They should get counseling for a child who becomes depressed, said Karen Carlson, associate dean at the University of New Mexico College of Nursing.
“Parents need to be upfront with school personnel,” she said. “They should collaborate with school nurses, guidance counselors, teachers. The group needs to decide what is happening and come up with potential solutions.”
What parents shouldn’t do is call the parents of the bully themselves. That should be the school’s role, Vessey said. Otherwise, the problem could worsen, with the parents getting involved in their own fight.
“Bystanders also have a big role to play in this,” she said. “If a child sees another getting bullied, they should go for help. They should tell the bully to cut it out. At-risk kids should always have a friend walk with them to and from school.”
Children tend to keep quiet about bullying, but it doesn’t take much to get them talking, Vessey said.
“Kids do want to talk about this, even though a lot of times they have a code of silence,” she said. “They need to know when certain behavior is not OK, and they need to know when and where they can get help.”
By Sue Vorenberg
a Scripps Howard Paper
STANDING UP TO BULLIES
Second of two parts
In a groundbreaking effort, one Albuquerque school fosters bully-proofing. A key component: unending kindness.
A chaos of children slowly melts and moves into a quiet sitting circle in Angie Scarberry’s third-grade classroom at Arroyo del Oso Elementary School.
Beyond reading and writing, it’s time to learn about social skills and how to stop bullying.
Why? Because, research shows, if you cut down on the bullying, you’ll improve the reading and writing.
At least one in 10 children suffers the brutalities of school bullies every day, according to recent studies. The taunts, isolation and physical blows can lead to lower grades, dropouts, suicides and deadly school shootings.
To combat that, Arroyo del Oso has adopted groundbreaking programs to bully-proof the Northeast Heights school.
On this day, counselor Lucinda McConnell places two coffee cans in the middle of Scarberry’s classroom.
One has “I Appreciate” written on it; the other, “Concerns.” Both are filled with neatly folded pieces of paper.
“Let’s treat each other with kindness with our words today as we solve our problems,” she says.
During the next half-hour, each student in Scarberry’s class must pick one classmate to appreciate. Then pieces of paper detailing the children’s good deeds are pulled from the “I Appreciate” can.
“I appreciate Sarah for when we got into an argument and she wrote me a sorry note,” one child says. “I appreciate Jordan because when I have no one to play with he plays with me,” another says.
The “Concerns” can comes next. It is full of problems incidents of name-calling, arguments about rules and cases of downright meanness. They will be read and solved as a group by the class.
At one time, McConnell didn’t think schools had any business teaching kids how to resolve conflicts and talk about their feelings. But after seeing the problems of bullying and social isolation, she changed her mind.
“I think we assume kids know how to behave, but we really need to teach that, model it and enforce it,” she said. “Families right now are just very stressed. There are so many single parents, so many people are busy just trying to survive. I feel the schools need to take more responsibility. Somebody’s got to handle the situation.”
If the Arroyo del Oso programs continues to improve grades and help the children, Albuquerque Public Schools will consider adding it to all the schools in the district, Superintendent Beth Everitt said.
“We’d like to look at what kind of success it’s having,” Everitt said. “Any program that’s going to help students work better together and prevent bullying in schools is important to us. Having safe schools is important. Kids can’t learn if they don’t feel safe.”
Killing them with kindness
Bullying and teasing can change a school climate, severely damage a child’s ability to learn and lead to lifelong psychological problems for the victim, the bully and even the bystanders, McConnell said.
Two years ago, she added a social skills program, developed by the University of Colorado, to Arroyo del Oso’s classrooms.
The two cans are part of that program. Another part is encouraging students to find a quiet time to deliver “I feel” messages to another child about behaviors like teasing or bullying.
The goal is to give students self-confidence and skills to handle problems on their own.
This year, McConnell added a new program, Positive Schoolwide Behavior, developed by the University of Oregon. It emphasizes four behavior characteristics: responsibility, respect, caring and safety. The words blare from signs all over the school.
It also rewards students for being nice to each other. When children demonstrate those characteristics, they get a blue card from their teacher. With five cards, they earn a small toy.
“For something like this to sink in, a child needs to hear four positive messages for every one negative thing they hear about themselves,” McConnell said. “We’re killing them with kindness, and it’s working.”
The program also includes a computer system where incidents of bullying are tracked by type, time and situation.
Counselors use that information to figure out which students need help and what sort of problems are developing.
“Not only is it working, but I’ve had positive feedback from parents, the cafeteria staff and others,” McConnell said. “They’ve said the kids are much more polite. You can feel the atmosphere here is different. Everybody is much nicer to one another.”
Learning to be friends
Arroyo del Oso is the first APS school to try out the program, but it probably won’t be the last, McConnell said.
“The (Positive Schoolwide Behavior) program has helped reduce the anxiety level at the school, and it’s improving grades here,” said Judy Vinyard, a fourth-grade teacher. “It really is taking off.”
In the classroom, the results have been startling, Scarberry said.
“For a long time, we saw the bullying here get worse and worse and worse,” Scarberry said. “A lot of it was subtle but very hurtful. The training has really helped the kids and the adults be aware of it. I’ve noticed a huge difference in the way everyone behaves.”
Back in class, McConnell hands out papers in the “Concerns” can.
“OK, everybody silently read your concern,” she says. “If you’ve solved it on your own, get rid of it. If you think it’s still a problem, put it in front of you, and the class will try to help.”
A few students smile as they put their papers into the trash. Others push their papers forward.
The first to read is a dark-haired boy, who gestures at a blond boy across the room.
“He said I look like a girl. I asked him to please stop, and he did it again.”
“I said the back of his head looks like a girl,” the blond boy responds.
“OK, how did that make you feel?” McConnell asks the dark-haired boy.
“Sad,” he says, looking at the floor.
“Have any of you learned that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all?” McConnell asks.
“Sometimes the words get out, but you need to screen them first in your head. We have to practice, even as an adult, so we know when to screen our words.”
Both boys nod.
McConnell sorts through each problem, suggesting solutions and demonstrating an appropriate way to act. At the end, Scarberry announces her own problem.
“I have a concern about students being alone on the playground,” she says.
McConnell asks for a show of hands to see who has nobody to play with: four students.
She asks them what they like to do at recess and then asks for volunteers to play with each child.
Almost every hand goes up.
FROM THE VICTIMS
Children who have suffered from bullying suggested these ways to stop the problem in schools:
- Adopt school uniforms.
- Let students take recess indoors.
- Allow some students to do board games instead of gym class and make the use of locker rooms and showers optional. *Impose more structure onto recess activities.
- Let adults, not children, choose teams in sports.
- Place “tip” boxes in schools so students can alert adults to bullies.
- Match older children with younger ones as mentors.
- Banish the game of dodge ball.
- Set up sensitivity classes for teachers and parents.
- Forbid athletes and cheerleaders from their activities if they’re caught bullying anyone.
- Create support groups for victims.