PUNXSUTAWNEY â Bullying has been seen in real life, on television and in films. People may like to see the underdog rise against his or her instigators, but retaliation such as that seen in the violent killings at Columbine High School shows that bullying continues to be out of control â along with the retaliation.
In the last several years, thereâs been a focus on attempting to put an end to bullying at Punxsutawney Area Middle School, which was visited by the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, a program for explaining to students whatâs behind bullying and how to end it.
Chris Smith, a seventh-grade English teacher, said since the deaths at Columbine High School, young people are becoming more violent in their retaliation against bullies.
âNow we have cyber-bullying that is taking place over the Internet on Facebook, MySpace and through texting on cell phones,â she said, while fourth-grade teacher Billie Sheesley said that even though bullying has been going on for generations, educators continue to teach everyone that itâs not acceptable.
âKids have to be able to come to school and feel safe,â she said. âIf they donât feel safe and they donât feel like theyâre secure, theyâre going to worry about what is coming next when they go out in the hall, or when they go home on the bus.â
John Snyder, a fifth-grade teacher, said students really need their basic needs met before teachers can reach them educationally.
PAMS Principal Richard Britten said that it does expand beyond bullying.
âHowever, bullying is a good place for us to start,â he said, adding that fifth, sixth and seventh grades are the worst for bullying.
PAMS Assistant Principal Michael Guidice said the presence is there, but how itâs done depends on how one views it.
âSomeone in seventh grade might see it as spreading a rumor through cyber bullying, whereas a fourth-grader might be excluded from participating in an activity such as, âYou canât play football with us today,ââ he said.
Britten said with exclusion, thereâs a difference between the male and female bullying, while Smith said boys are more physical in their bullying.
âIn many cases, it will be physical, but with girls, it has more to do with rumors and social exclusions,â she said. âThatâs the other thing: Because itâs always been that way doesnât mean it has to be like that. We have to show the kids who are bullied that we care.â
Britten said if a kid who acts like a bully in school is not treated, he or she will continue to be a bully throughout adult life.
âWe have to teach them through example that we care if theyâre a bully,â Smith said, adding that they have to care about it, too, or it just becomes an easy habit.
Smith said that in some cases, a bully may or may not realize his or her behavior is improper.
âWe have to educate them to make them aware that what theyâre doing just isnât acceptable,â she said. âIf anything else, by what weâve done, our kids are becoming more aware of bullying. Somebody will do something, and someone will say, âThatâs bullying behavior.ââ
PAMS recently held a kickoff for the Olweus Bullying program for sixth- and seventh-graders. It is a comprehensive, school-wide program designed and evaluated for use in elementary, middle or junior high schools.Â
The programâs goals are to reduce and prevent bullying problems among students and to improve peer relations at school.
The program has been found to reduce bullying among children, improve the social climate of classrooms, and reduce related antisocial behaviors, such as vandalism and truancy.Â
âStudents who attended the program made anti-bullying posters to be placed around the school building,â Sheesley said. âThey wanted to do more, and it was a little girl who herself started out as a bully. It was a big turnaround for her, then she was one of the ones that made the signs.â
Snyder said young people may see bullying at home, on television or around friends, adding, âIt almost becomes an acceptable form until we open it up to them that this is unacceptable.â
According to Guidice, the Internet and television have desensitized many youngsters to bullying.
âThey see it portrayed in videos and movies, and they think that it must be OK, then. Itâs our job to remind them that itâs not OK,â he said.
Sheesly said different videos from the Olweus program point out several things that students are doing at PAMS, in hopes of illustrating awareness or perhaps allowing them to catch their own behavior.
Smith said while creating an awareness of bullying is one thing, there is also creating awareness of those who are being bullied.
âWe are trying to focus on the bystanders, to try and get them involved,â she said. âWe want them to stand up and say, âSorry, you canât do that, itâs not right. Now weâre seeing that a bystander whoâs not being bullied will say, âKnock it off.â Thatâs something that we really need.â
âThe kids are starting to take ownership; this is their school and they want it to be safe too,â Sheesley said. âThe last part of the anti-bullying pledge is extremely important: âIf we know that somebody is being bullied, we will tell an adult at school and an adult at home.â We know itâs not going to happen overnight.â
An anti-bullying theme last year was âStomp out Bullying.â This year, itâs been âMix it Up at Lunch,â when students must sit with people they donât know.
âAt first, there was a lot of complaining, but I told them it was only for 30 minutes,â Smith said. âWhen it started, it was a big deal. Now, itâs OK and we hold one every nine weeks.â
Smith said because the staff canât see everything, thatâs why itâs important to have bystanders involved.
âIf theyâre going down to related arts, there arenât any teachers in their classrooms to monitor the behaviors in the halls,â she said. âWe donât know about that, but thatâs why we have the surveillance cameras.â
Guidice said thereâs no profile of a student who could be bullied.
âSome maybe more susceptible than others, but I think every student is a candidate for bullying,â he said. âEven the bigger, stronger kids will be made fun of for the way that they dress, not being the brightest or for being so big.â
Snyder said bullies can exploit a weakness in anybody, and Smith added that even the most popular kids, at some point in their lives, have been called a name or told something that hurt them.
âYou donât think that the popular kids have been bullied,â she said.
Guidice said as the administrator who handles the discipline at the middle school, heâs seen a difference in how bullying is perceived.
âI donât have to explain it as much as I did last year,â he said. âIf somebody does somebody wrong, and they come into my office, usually by the end of our conversation, that student admits that they had done something wrong.â