Local schools taking bullies by the horns

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— All over Routt County, increasing time and attention is being devoted to bullying awareness. Bullies on the playground, on the buses and in the schools may not be new, but fears about how far their behavior can go, and the extent to which they can hurt their victims, is definitely reaching new levels.
"These are not situations children can handle on their own," sixth-grade reading and geography teacher Heidi Chapman said.
Monday night, parents and middle school teachers met at Steamboat Middle School to discuss concerns and strategies regarding bullying behavior. Most of the middle school staff and many parents who have children enrolled in the elementary, middle and high schools showed up to voice their opinions.
"There was really a range of voices there, from parents who think their children are being bullied to parents who worry their children are exhibiting bullying behavior," middle school secretary Ginny Fry said.
Chapman has experience implementing a bully-proofing program in the Denver schools. She said the one component really lacking in Denver was the widespread community and parental involvement that is taking place in Steamboat, and that is utterly necessary to making any bullying prevention program work.
"One of the most important pieces is the empathy and making the silent majority of bystanders 85 percent of the school population aware of what's going on," she said. "It's this silent group that needs to be targeted to create empathy for victims and to give them voice. To say, hey, there are places to go and ways to communicate to teachers and counselors to make this situation better."
In middle school and high school especially, she added, it is normal for students to feel threatened because there is no safe outlet or way to report what's happening to them.
"Those non-involved students need to communicate and get kids to realize that there are safe avenues for them," she said. "A lot of time when kids name-call and bully, they have no idea how it feels or what the consequences could be. Creating that empathy part is really important."
Steamboat Middle School is the second county school to begin implementing a bullying prevention program.
Mari Mahanna, Hayden schools health services coordinator, began implementing bullying awareness in the high school last year.
Mahanna said that the high school, a recipient of a school safety grant from the University of Colorado at Boulder, doesn't have serious threats to school safety at this point, but that there has been bullying and it is a concern.
At Steamboat Middle School, bullying does not yet seem to be causing problems, principal Sandy Hall said, but parents, students and staff don't want to see it become a problem.
Those who met Monday night in Steamboat broke into small groups where discussion led to ideas that may help deal with and assuage bullying behavior. Ideas were shared, written on an overhead and pared down to eight strategies locals intend to endorse in tackling the threats of bullying behavior:
* Be more aware of bullying in progress, i.e. "tune in" because it's easy to walk by a bullying situation.
* Educate children to recognize bullying.
* Staff should model behavior that doesn't allow bullying.
* Staff and parents should exhibit their courage by actually intervening, which does take courage.
* Recognize bullying behaviors and offer strategies to deal with it.
* Follow intervention with education and consequences.
* Create open communication between the school, parents, churches and community in general by creating consistency in recognizing and dealing with bullying behavior, so that everybody is on the same page.
* Let the "victim" and "bully" know everything will be followed up on.
"We all have the same idea, and now we're going to try and solve it," Fry said in response to the countywide efforts to prevent bullying.
Despite varying strategies that have been proposed throughout the county and nationwide to deal with bullying behavior, there is one conclusion parents and teachers had no problem reaching at Monday night's meeting: Bullying is seen throughout the community, and although a lot of it may seem minimally threatening, it all leads to a lot of hurt feelings.

To reach Bonnie Nadzam call 871-4204 or e-mail bnadzam@amigo.net

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