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BULLYING

Manteca schools strive to make it ‘uncool’ to bully

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BULLYING

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POSTED December 13, 2013 1:02 a.m.

Bullying is an age-old phenomenon that is getting a lot of modern-day attention.

Tragedies spawned by this behavioral malady is behind all the intense scrutiny and accompanying efforts at school sites to find a solution, or to stem the tide of any further festering of its destructive effects especially on the young.

Turning this negative phenomenon into something positive, and trying to nip in the bud any new occurrence, has mobilized concerned professionals – teachers, counselors, and many others with parents and the community drawn into the equation – and has spawned a plethora of innovative actions and programs in every school campus in Manteca Unified.

These preventative and positive-goal-setting strategies cover a plethora of innovative ideas, with some schools’ projects somewhat mirroring each other while others have used celebrity factor in getting students enthused into getting involved in the effort. Most recently, Manteca High came out with an all-student production of an anti-bullying video under the guidance of their teacher, Carol Creighton, which can be viewed on YouTube (MHSBuffTV).



Anti-bullying and the celebrity factor


Two of the schools that have incorporated the celebrity factor in their anti-bullying efforts are Joshua Cowell and Woodward elementary schools.

At Joshua Cowell, up-and-coming singer-songwriter Torrey Mercer delivered a ringing anti-bullying message this summer, singing her anti-bullying anthem that she wrote. Interwoven in her performance was an interactive conversation with the students on how to deal with bullies, how to cope with bullying, and ways to help not just the victims but also the perpetrators.

Principal Bonnie Bennett and school staff also make it an effort to always come up with innovating ways to encourage positive attitude among the students, and foster that with inspiring visual aids such as the Peace messages that the students inscribed on the colorful tiles that accentuate the school’s courtyard of Peace, which in turn incorporates the Six Pillars of Character.

“Our most effective weapon against bullying is creating a culture on campus where the positive character traits are recognized and celebrated, and where the negative character traits are considered by students and staff to be ‘uncool’ and therefore unsupported by others,” Bennett explained.

“In order to bring about the desired culture, ongoing education of students occurs through modeling of our six character pillars – trustworthiness, responsibility, caring, fairness, respect, and citizenship – at weekly school-wide gatherings,” she added.

Like Joshua Cowell, Lathrop Elementary has constructed its own Six Pillars of Character on campus, a reminder to all students about the power of positive thinking and action.

“We tied our bully awareness and prevention program to the Six Pillars of Character as well as our new School-Wide Positive Behavior Intervention and Support system,” Principal David Silveira explained.

They have also formed a committee of parents, clerical, and certificated individuals “who are working on this and have presented to staff. This is a system that is continuing to evolve,” he said.

Walter Woodward Elementary is another school that is taking advantage of the great influence celebrities have on the young. Earlier this school year, motivational and award-winning speaker Retro Bill came on campus for an entertaining and highly educational interactive program on anti-bullying.

The bullying issue has, unfortunately, propelled Woodward School into unwanted visibility recently on the Internet. That upsetting cyberspace occurrence stemmed from a recent incident at school in which a parent said he was unhappy with the way his child’s “bullying” experience was handled by the school authorities. That incident made its way to the Manteca Bulletin Facebook page, and it prompted Principal Sherrie Jamero to post her own comment regarding the incident.

“In an effort to get more information regarding bullying in the schools, your FB (Facebook) post has now become an attack on me and my job performance at Woodward. We have MANY positive things going on at our school that I would be more than happy to share with you,” she wrote.

She pointed out, as an example, to the “two very positive classes for parents to teach positive strategies for helping their students combat bullying and also the danger of cyber bullying.”

Jamero said the Retro Bill program was very successful because not only did the parents enjoy it, “they were very thankful and walked  away with positive messages and information on how children can resist bullying, and to step (away) from other people if they feel like they are being bullied. It’s not about running and hiding; it’s about being respectful, and that was the big part of the message,” Jamero said.

Notwithstanding the recent incident that left a parent extremely unsatisfied on how the case involving his son was handled, Jamero stands firm in her belief that parents play a major role in the successful fight against bullying on campus. She also recognizes, along with other school and counseling professionals, that parents need to keep themselves informed about the growing digital gadgets, phone apps and other cyber tools that some kids use to perpetrate their bullying behaviors. Just recently, for example, she became aware of an app called KIK. The app’s official web site describes it KIK as a “fast, simple, and personal smartphone messenger that connects you to everyone you love to talk to.” What concerned Jamero the most was the fact this app allows kids to “text each other via wireless, from Ipods,” and that the problem with KIK is that “they can do it anonymously. On KIK, they can just make up a random name and start harassing someone.”

She then e-mailed parents in the school’s junior high list to let them know about this smartphone app.

This is something you may not be aware of, she informed the parents. She then suggested that parents ask their children to look into their cell phone device, emphasizing that the parents make sure the discussion stays positive.  Based on the e-mail responses she received, many parents were not even aware of this app, and thanked Jamero for letting them know about it.

The parents just didn’t know, Jamero said. “Kids are smart; this is what they do. This is the nastiness of the Internet. Internet is a great thing but there are things that are now in place that parents are not aware of. I didn’t know this stuff; I didn’t grow up with this tech. I didn’t know until a couple of years ago that these apps are there.”

If a principal or other school official becomes aware about a cyber bullying incident, the law says that if the kid posts on Facebook a bullying message targeting someone, the disciplinary action still comes to the school site because the perpetrator/s attend the school – particularly if there’s  a threat involved, “because threat is not acceptable,” Jamero stated.

According to district policy, a student can bring a cell phone to school but they have to keep them in the off mode and out of sight. They are not allowed to use it during school hours, only once they are off campus. At the end of school, the students can then retrieve their cell phones or call their parents, Jamero said.

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