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November 2010: APS is Taking Bullies Seriously

This guest column appeared in the Albuquerque Journal.

Students are looking for ways to deal with bullying. You can see it across the country and right here in Albuquerque.

Today some 2,700 schools nationwide—including at least five in Albuquerque Public Schools—are participating in “Mix It Up at Lunch Day,” which encourages students to question and cross boundaries by sitting with someone new in their cafeterias for a day. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program came up with this idea to encourage students to get to know each other and break down the social barriers that often create situations for bullying to exist in schools.

I share this to let you know that even as we speak, students, teachers and administrators are coming up with ideas and taking action to stamp out bullying in their schools. It has not been an easy problem to solve; indeed, it’s as old as the one-room schoolhouse. And, the challenge is made worse by all the technological advances that make it easier for bullies to humiliate victims in their homes and before a wider audience.

While school districts like the Albuquerque Public Schools can address bullying and teach ways to deal with it, because it occurs both in school and in the community, the community must join together to address it.

Last week the APS Board of Education approved a revised policy that strengthens the district’s anti-bullying stance. The policy makes it clear that the Board expects all schools to be safe, respectful learning environments, free of fear and intimidation. School teachers and administrators are expected to model this behavior, as are members of the board of education. Further, the district is committed to making sure that all members of the school community are aware of these expectations. Bullying is not to be tolerated. Period.

One of the ways of assuring that this occurs is training for both school staff and students. The district requires that all employees who deal with students complete anti-bullying training each year. Three years ago, the district also implemented curriculum to teach students what constitutes bullying, how to deal with it and what to do if they believe they are being bullied. While schools do not keep separate statistics on bullying because many times it takes the form of assault (either verbal or physical), we believe that reports of bullying are on the rise because more students are aware of it.

Elementary schools also have implemented mentoring programs where groups of students get together with their peers to deal with problems like bullying. Many times youth are reluctant to report bullying because they don’t want to be viewed as a “tattle-tale.” By having their peers help deal with bullying, they get the support of their fellow students.

A grant received as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Safe Schools/Healthy Students initiative has also helped the APS develop ways to deal with school safety and bullying. Last year at West Mesa High School this took the form of an after-school art project where students painted murals in the restrooms as a way to channel their energy in a more positive way. This fall the APS safe schools/healthy students’ website was launched as a place where both students and parents can go to find ways to deal with bullying (www.abqsafeschools.org).

The nationally recognized Rachel’s Challenge program has, or will, come into several of your schools with its anti-bullying message this school year. It promotes anti-bullying activities and engaging the entire community in a “kindness process” and involves volunteers guiding students throughout the year.
The Peace Crew is a group of eighth-graders at Tony Hillerman Middle School who promote a similar message peer-to-peer. Students feel like the message hits home better coming from peers rather than adults lecturing them. It’s the kind of outside-the-box thinking we need to help solve the problem.

The schools can do their part to address this societal issue, but parents and community members must also join us to help combat the problem. We too must model good behavior and be ready to help deal the issue with our children—whether they are the bully or the bullied. Later this school year, the APS Health & Wellness Department plans to begin a community awareness campaign that shows how to recognize and prevent bullying. They also plan to ask youth to make a pledge to fight bullying. We hope the entire community will take this pledge.

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