Educators at Waupaca Middle School are teaching students how to empower themselves.
Last month’s early dismissal day was devoted to the topic of bullying and how students and staff can work together to stop it.
“It’s not something that we have to live with. If we all think about helping each other out and being a good neighbor, we are all going to live better. It’s about letting them know that they all have worth,” said Ben Rayome, the school’s principal.
On that school day, the school’s seventh and eighth graders watched a series of three videos related to a teen girl, who over the course of several years was bullied both in school and online.
She committed suicide.
The fifth and sixth graders watched a video about a boy who was bullied at school.
The students spent the remainder of that half day in classrooms, discussing what they saw and doing various activities, including noting on a map of the school where bullying currently takes place.
“It was sad. Every case of bullying is sad,” Rayome told the seventh and eighth graders.
His message to the fifth and sixth-grade students was, “Every day, we get reports of kids getting bullied, and we only see a small number. The biggest message is to stand up and be a friend.”
Several years ago, school districts in the state were required to develop an anti-bullying, harassment and hazing policy.
Rayome said the Waupaca School District policy includes cyberbullying, because like the case of the girl in the video watched by students, bullying may also occur on the Internet.
Before the Internet, bullying may have occurred at school, including before and after the school day.
When a student got home, he felt safe, Rayome said.
Today, with students plugged into technology, a bully may target them online.
Rayome said the two stories shared with the students were meant to stir emotions and to feel the hurt of those who were bullied.
“We felt they were age appropriate. There was good discussion,” he said. “The goal is not for this to just be a one-time deal.”
The topic will be revisisted throughout the school year.
During their discussions in the classrooms, students were asked who would be willing to stand up to a bully.
Rayome said students should go to an adult if they or other students are hurting emotionally or physically.
“Most kids don’t report it. They think if they ignore it, it will go away,” he said. “If you see someone being bullied, go to an adult, or go to the victim and make sure he is OK.”
Much of their work with the students is talking to them about how the Internet opens up a big world and how to be safe on the Internet.
“We tell them they have to look at privacy settings, and don’t be friends with people you haven’t met face to face,” Rayome said. “It’s not just about bullying. It’s about safety.”
He said most students at the middle school have cellphones.
“They are great devices when used appropriately,” Rayome said. “We want to keep them (the students) safe and help them build each other up.”
When a student reports being bullied, the person just wants it to stop, he said.
“We offer different options. The goal is always to get it to stop,” he said.
The consequences district wide include meetings with some combination of the bully, victim, parent, counselor, administrator or the school liaison officer, as well as detentions, suspensions, loss of privileges (field trips, recess, prom, graduation), expulsion and referral to social services.
At the middle school, the type of bullying they often see is described as “invisible,” because it is in the form of shunning, ignoring and isolating, Rayome said.
He said the staff sees these examples when students are playing a sport and a student says such things as, “We already have our team,” or “You can’t play.”
“Or, it might be they don’t like what someone is wearing or they’re not from the ‘right’ neighborhood. The biggest pieces are rumors and isolation,” Rayome said.
He encourages parents to monitor what their children are doing online.
“Keep the lines of communication open. If you can start an account for them, you need to have the password so you have access,” Rayome said. “Don’t put the computer in their bedroom. Put it where you can see what they’re doing on the computer. Monitor what they’re doing. Be the parent.”
He also said if parents notice behavioral changes in their children, they should talk to a school counselor.
If a child goes from being fun loving to isolating himself and not wanting to go to school, something is going on, Rayome said.