Buzzword: Bullying

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Sequim Gazette

Bullying can happen at all grade levels and any age. Each Sequim School District school reports having at least a few incidents this year of what administrators define as bullying.

Calling behavior bullying depends on the students’ age and skill level.

Cathy Shea, school counselor at Greywolf Elementary, said there are three parts to bullying:
• The bully performs an intentionally mean act toward another student
• The bully uses power against others based on popularity, size, age, etc.
• The bully repeats the mean act

Donna Hudson, principal at Greywolf Elementary, said bullying looks a lot different at the elementary level than at the secondary level.


“It’s less a bullying issue and more of them not knowing,” Hudson said.


“Kids understand that words hurt. It might be the same behavior, but the lack of intent is different. When a 13-year-old says ‘you are fat,’ they understand it hurts. When a 5- or 6-year-old says it, they might not always understand it.”


Patra Boots, Helen Haller Elementary principal, said she’s dealt with bullying at a less severe level this year, but younger victims might not understand they are being bullied.  


“This is about teaching kids about what is appropriate and not,” Boots said.


Hudson said pinpointing bullying in grade school incidents is difficult.


“There’s almost continual hard social situations,” Hudson said.

Defining bullying

Shea said bullying is a real buzzword.  


“People refer to bullying all the time when it’s not really,” she said.


Greywolf had one bullying incident last year that led to all students being involved in mediation and reconciling through a play they performed in front of the school about why bullying is bad.


“I wanted them to know what was happening, and we haven’t had any problems with them this year,” Shea said.


“Kids are supposed to be here to learn, and we want them to feel safe.”


Brian Jones, principal of Sequim Middle School, said bullying is treating other youths badly, especially when it is pervasive and might prevent other children from feeling safe.


“It’s mistaken (as bullying) when someone gets shoved down at the bus stop or knocked over by a backpack in the passing period,” Jones said.


This year, the middle school has had three incidents of two seventh-grade bullies harassing students and another in the eighth grade.


Jones refers to a book called “Bully-proofing Your Child.” A child who is bullied usually recognizes these situations:
• The bully picks on the child day after day without letting up
• The bully wins confrontations

• The child is upset and the bully sees it as no big deal or says that the child deserved it.


Assistant principals Randy Hill and Mark Willis at Sequim High School said they receive a lot of allegations about bullying but those incidents are often inappropriate behavior.


“It’s hard to define who is the victim and the harasser when there are counter-allegations,” Willis said.


“Bullying is more than one incident. One student can insult another’s girlfriend one time, but it’s inappropriate behavior instead of bullying.”


“Real bullies do it under the radar.”


Sequim High School has documented 28 students with allegations of bullying and/or harassment. Willis said these are all in the students’ discipline files.


Types of bullying

Bullying comes from boys and girls, individuals and groups.


“We’re not seeing an increase in bullying since we grew up,” said Sequim Police Officer Tony Graham, who is assigned to part-time work with Sequim schools.


“There’s just more ways it’s happening. Bullying gets convoluted and involved. I’ve found schools have a good grasp of associations and are good at gathering peers and the overall picture of what’s going on.”


At the high school, principals report insulting, degrading comments and gender-related, mean-spirited actions coming from bullies.


“Bully-proofing Your Child” references four categories of bullying:
• Physical aggression — from mild pushing to severe threats with a weapon
• Social alienation — from gossip to threats of total isolation by the peer group
• Verbal aggression — from mocking to verbal threats
• Intimidation — from threatening to reveal personal information to outright coercion.  


One growing concern is cyberbullying, in which a student is threatened or harassed using technology such as text messaging, camera phone pictures or the Internet.


Hill and Willis said cyberbullying at the high school includes negative comments and derogatory statements and is sometimes sexual.  


Cell phones are allowed at the high school and it’s hard to police usage, Willis said. Phones are not allowed in classrooms.


Jones said cyberbullying is relatively new. It’s 24/7 and it’s anonymous.


“If kids were to say these things to others’ faces, they probably wouldn’t do it,” Jones said.


The middle school does not allow electronic devices other than music players at recess.


“We could spend a lot of energy saying what they can and can’t do with technology, but expectations are set,” Jones said.


Hudson said cyberbullying hasn’t played into the elementary school yet due to students not having access to e-mail or phones. For a bully to use the school’s network to harass another student seems unlikely. All Sequim schools go through the same network, which is highly filtered, said Boots, who also is director of the school district’s technology.


“We have a lot of limitations on the school’s network. No access to e-mail and everything is filtered, like profanity, violence, sex content and chats, and we’re continually looking at things to filter,” Boots said.

Boots said it’s hard to control texting and Internet use on smart phones.


Graham suggests children give parents their passwords so parents can monitor their use of social networking sites and e-mails.


“We see a lot of things that come through text messages,” he said. “You’d be amazed at the things that come through. It only takes a few clicks to get something out to the whole school.”


If cyberbullying does occur through a cell phone, parents can provide information to the school and law enforcement.

Positive programs

Each school has programs in place to work with bullies.


Jones said this year they’ve implemented a Why Try program for all sixth-graders at the middle school twice a month. The program talks about bullying and helps students overcome their challenges and improve outcomes in truancy, behavior and academics. One idea suggests students tear off their labels and perceive each other as blank slates.


“It helps them have conversations about topics they don’t typically have,” Jones said.


“They dig deeper and think about things and situations they see.”


Several programs at Greywolf and Helen Haller promote good behavior, such as Paw Pride and Caught being Good coupons.


Shea said Greywolf’s peer mediation program, in which students patrol at recess to solve conflicts, has been successful. When students solve a problem together, they sign a contract. Since, Nov. 1, 2010, there have been 35 conflicts resolved that otherwise could have been discipline referrals.


Shea said some of her work in classrooms focuses on motivating bystanders to curb bad behavior, including bullying, by helping out and reporting the actions.


One program Willis mentioned for promoting student unity at the high school is a Link Crew, a program that creates a bridge and relationship between underclassmen and upperclassmen. He said Graham is researching new curricula to put in place next year at the high school.


Hudson said whenever there is a disciplinary action, staff tries to alert parents/guardians.


“The focus is working with parents and to replace poor social skills with better ones in the children,” Hudson said.

“Too often kids watch mean things happen. We’re trying to encourage them to intervene.”

Sequim Middle School has preventive measures in place to stop some misbehavior. Sixth-graders change classes four minutes before seventh- and eighth-graders. They also eat in separate lunch periods. Before school students now are restricted to the cafeteria, library, lobby or breezeway.


Graham also checks in with each school in the city limits daily. Sequim High School has a school security officer, Dave Toman Graham said if parents feel a child is being bullied, the primary step is to be supportive.


“Allow them a place to voice their concerns,” he said. “Don’t make it to be their fault.”



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