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Posted October 9, 2012

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October 2012: Community Getting its Say on Bullying

Read the superintendent’s column that ran in the Albuquerque Journal today, Oct. 9.

A grandparent who attended one of our recent public forums on bullying prevention told us she really appreciated it when her granddaughter’s elementary school principal went over with her the step-by-step process that the school would follow to address the bullying incident she had reported.

Hearing accounts like this directly from parents reminds me how important this topic is to people, and how much work we still need to do on it.

October is Bullying Prevention Month, and Albuquerque Public Schools held two forums on bullying prevention. We were there to look at the big picture rather than focus on specific incidents. Parents and community members gave us valuable input.

So that you understand our starting point, this is the district’s definition of bullying, in part: ” ‘Bullying’ is a way of using power aggressively in which a person is subjected to intentional, unwanted and unprovoked hurtful verbal and/or physical actions. Bullying results in the victim feeling oppressed, fearful, distressed, injured or uncomfortable. The aggression is repeated on more than one occasion and can include: physical, verbal, emotional, racial, sexual, written, electronic, damage to property, social exclusion and intimidation.”

Note that word “repeated.” We’re separating true bullying from a “conflict” that happens one time and is more quickly resolved. They require different responses. Too often these days, “bullying” is thrown around as a catch-all definition of aggressive behavior, and I’m afraid we’ve left our kids with the impression that any perceived slight they might experience during the day is bullying.

No, we need to focus on bullying, a pattern of deliberate aggressive behavior against the same target over and over. It’s when a child encounters the same person (or people) telling him he dresses funny or isn’t wanted. It’s when someone regularly sends mean-spirited texts to others or posts insulting messages on Facebook.

This is where we need to step in and take action. We’ve taken this daily battle to the public, for suggestions and awareness. We’ll provide the leadership, policy and enforcement, but we’re also asking parents and the community to provide the daily example. We all know that kids model the behavior they see.

At the forums, we had small-group discussions to answer three questions: What have people seen that works to counteract bullying? What is the role of parents and the community? What new solutions or programs could be put in place to help prevent bullying?

People gave us some great responses. They let us know how pleased they are about recently introduced programs like the Watch DOGS (Dads of Great Students), a volunteer group of fathers and grandfathers that has chapters at a number of our elementary schools. With those men patrolling the campuses, kids know someone is watching them, and there’s someone available to talk to, if they have a problem. The Rachel’s Challenge program, which most middle and high school students saw, also was mentioned.

People told us that having adults around for kids to talk to was very helpful. That can mean being available at school, or parents talking to their kids about what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. Kids respond well when they can talk about issues they’re having in school, and peer discussions and mediations came up frequently.

Speaking of peer mediation, you should know APS is continuing and expanding its Safe School Ambassadors program. Already in its third year at three middle schools and second year at three others, as many as four more – including a high school – are expected to start the program this year. Funded by the Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative, the program trains natural student leaders to serve as mediators. They’re taught how to defuse situations before bullying can start. Truth is, students often don’t report mistreatment, so it’s essential for bystanders to take action.

APS is taking the next steps from these forums. A new, full-time bullying prevention coordinator is in place to spearhead our efforts. All of the feedback is being assessed and will be reported to the Board of Education shortly.

Students are taking notice and taking action to prevent bullying. It’s a community issue, and we hope you’ll join us.

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