Photo: AP Photo
Photo: AP Photo

Bullying prevention an on-going task for schools

The battle against bullying is a daily, on-going activity, according to local educators.

“It’s all about being pro-active, not reactive,” said Kathy Wagonfield, principal of Ridgeway Elementary School in Hamilton. “We take the time to teach students about good character through specific lessons woven into every single story in elementary school as well as every single social studies lesson.

“Bullying is included with lessons that explain clearly what a bully is and how each of us can combat this behavior,” she said.

State law requires that if someone reports bullying behavior, schools must investigate it. Districts are also required by law to generate a bullying report twice a year and post it on the district’s Internet site.

But getting a clear picture of how pervasive bullying is in one district compared to another can be difficult. The JournalNews looked at the websites of several Butler County school districts and found no consistency in what types of incidents were reported, how they were reported or even if they were reported.

For example, Edgewood reported 72 incidents and 12 “actual hazing/bullying” incidents for the 2011-12 school year. Meanwhile, Hamilton schools reported the number of bullying incidents and investigations by types (i.e. sexual, hate-based and gang- or cult-related harassment) and how many consequences were issued. New Miami schools had nothing on its website and did not provide a report to the JournalNews when requested.

Part of the battle in dealing with the issue, school officials say, is explaining what bullying actually is. The word is bandied about so much, that sometimes students and parents will report bullying when there’s no real threat or harassing behavior. One principal said she deflected a parent who said her child was bullied because another child told him there was no Santa Claus.

“A lot of people think that any time a child is picking on another child that it’s bullying,” said Denise Griffin, director of curriculum for Edgewood City Schools. “We have a raised level of alertness on the issue, and we try to explain that to a parent who feels their child is being bullied.”

“The first time something happens, it is generally not bullying,” she said. “So we have to determine if it’s crossed the line into bullying.Every incident has to be looked at because there’s no black-and-white answer.”

“The processes we have make sure we are doing what we can to make sure that all children come to a safe learning environment,” said John Thomas, Edgewood district spokesperson.

“We start with our preschool kids,” said Jeff Barnes, Edgewood’s director of early childhood education, “by modeling the kinds of behavior we want them to emulate. It starts with the youngest of kids.”

Valerie Montgomery, principal of Woodland Elementary School in the Lakota district said the school uses “common language for staff, students and families.”

“Bullying is part of the personal/social domain of the counseling program here at Woodland,” she said. “Our positive character traits program - Woodland Wisdom - and our expectations work to also curb bullying incidents and overall produce more respectful, responsible, problem solvers and caring students.”

Each building in the Talawanda district has a distinctively named anti-bullying program, but are based on the same concepts.

Morgan Elementary School in the Ross district focused on Internet safety and anti-bullying lessons through guidance education during the month of November, according to counselor Kim Fessenden.

“Students in grades K-4 discussed being safe online, ways to stay bully free, and what to do if they find themselves in bullying situations.

Ross and Edgewood both use a “Bucket Filler Program,” based in the book “Have You Filled a Bucket Today,” that teaches empathy, how it makes a student feel when they make someone feel good.

“We recognize and reward student who demonstrate respect and responsibility, which we believe is the best method for preventing bullying,” said Ross Middle School Principal Chris Saylor. “Students who are observed going out of their way to do respectful or responsible acts receive an RR - Respect Responsibility - card which is then turned into the office. Daily drawings are conducted and winners receive popcorn tickets that can be redeemed at lunch.

At Fairfield Intermediate School, the anti-bullying discussions begin the very first day of school, according to Principal Beth Prince.

“We educate every student and teacher in the building the first few days of school as to what bullying is, how to prevent it and how to stop it if it occurs,” she said. “We have ongoing review of what we taught at the beginning of the school year. We also have peer mediation by our counselor and administrators.”

Fairfield West Elementary Principal Kim Wotring takes a pro-active approach by personally reading a book to every grade level called “The Golden Rule,” which talks about how everyone around the world has a different way of saying the same thing, which is to treat others the way that you would like to be treated.

“We then do reviews/reminders throughout the year of the importance of following the Golden rule,” Wotring said.

Ridgeway teachers this year created their own lessons for every grade level for the first three days of school to clearly teach and explain school procedures which involve character expectations,” Wagonfield said.

“This gives students time to practice exact behaviors,” she said. “If we start with this proactive approach with the young children and consistently touch upon it throughout the year, every single year, then students truly respond.

“It’s constant lessons, reminders, modeling, reinforcement and high/clear expectations,” Wagonfield said.

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