Students, Educators Seek To Address Bullying
Chances are, you have experienced bullying. Maybe you've been a bully, a victim, or have witnessed someone else being bullied.
About a quarter of high school students and about half of junior high students in Wyoming indicated they had been bullied on the statewide Youth Risk Behavior Survey released recently.
Bullying is not a new problem, but it has received more attention in recent years as anti-bullying campaigns and state laws directly confront the issue and increase public awareness.
Taylor Rees has personal experience with the consequences of bullying and suicide. About a year ago, Taylor said her friend walked her home. The next morning, she found out he had committed suicide. He would have turned 15 the following month. "He was my best friend," Taylor said.
People at school called him gay and he had been randomly targeted by many of his peers for years, said Taylor, a sophomore at Rock Springs High School who has also been harassed.
Even now, Taylor said students joke about his death. She's still coping with grief, but has turned to her friends and boyfriend for emotional support. Taylor said she is upset by what she feels was a lack of concern and support for students at the high school after her friend's death.
Rock Springs Junior High School counselor Rhonda Kettering said standard practice in handling suicides is to avoid memorializing or drawing attention to the incident for fear that other students might see suicide as a way to get attention.
However, Kettering tells the Rock Springs Rocket-Miner that counselors often reach out to close friends of a victim.
"A lot of kids feel that we don't acknowledge (suicides), but we do a lot of work behind the scenes . it's a fine line," Kettering said. "You have to be really careful about it."
Rock Springs High School Principal Darrin Peppard said students who feel helpless or ignored shouldn't be reluctant to talk about it.
"The first thing I would tell them is to communicate. We can't fix something we don't know about," Peppard said. "We want to do everything we can to help any situation."
Peppard said students could seek support from any of the school's counselors and social workers and they are not required to work with the counselor assigned to them.
"Whoever the student feels comfortable with," Peppard said.
Peppard said he personally felt helpless following the recent suicide of a Rock Springs High School student.
"If only we had known or there was something we could have done," Peppard said. "That's why I want our kids to be more aware of the resources they have available to them."
Resource Officer Brad Bell said there have been multiple suicides by students at the high school in the past few years. School administrators and a critical incident team are debriefed and work together following a suicide, Bell said.
Peppard is in the process of putting together a group of students who feel as strongly as he does about the suicide rate in Sweetwater County.
"I feel that as a school, there's more we can do, and more we will do to help students understand that there are other alternatives," Peppard said.
If students are being harassed or bullied online or through text messages, Peppard said they should save the messages for evidence when reporting it.
"That documentation is what really helps to build the case that it really is a bullying situation," Peppard said.
Peppard opened a blog post on the school social networking Web site asking students what they would like to see school administrators do when a suicide occurs. Rock Springs Junior High School has been conducting a series of lessons highlighting character building and leadership skills for the past three years.
Kettering said the Bully Proofing Your School program costs little, but requires a lot of work by teachers and counselors to make the lessons interesting with supplemental material like videos and skits.
Bruce Hayes, a safety consultant for the state education department, said a simple, low-cost option is for school administrators to encourage teachers to stress the importance of character building by embedding it into their lesson plans. Hayes described a hypothetical classroom discussion about courage in a historical context:
"Did it take courage for Martin Luther King Jr. to do what he did in the climate of the early 1960s? You will have opportunities to demonstrate that level of courage," Hayes said.
The U.S. Department of Education released the Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies Dec. 6. The report found that as of July 2011, 48 states had bullying laws, including Wyoming, and 36 had provisions prohibiting bullying through electronic media.