School district programs in place to address bullying

Posted: Wednesday, October 13, 2010

It's a safe bet you or someone you know has experienced bullying at least once in their lifetime. There's an even bigger chance it happened in school.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the 2007 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey, about 32 percent of students aged 12 to 18 reported having been bullied at school during the school year, 21 percent said they experienced bullying that consisted of being made fun of; 18 percent reported being the subject of rumors; 11 percent said that they were pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on; 6 percent said they were threatened with harm; 5 percent said they were excluded from activities on purpose; and 4 percent said someone tried to make them do things they did not want to do or their property was destroyed on purpose.

As an ongoing school climate and safety measure in Juneau School District, the district has a policy on harassment and bullying, and each school has measures in place to prevent it and deal with it when it does occur.

One of the reasons Challenge Day was brought to Thunder Mountain, and will eventually arrive at Juneau-Douglas High School and Yakoosge Daakahidi High School is to address issues involved with bullying (among other social issues), said student services director David Newton.

Assistant Superintendent Laurie Scandling said at the high school the social hierarchy tends to be sharply divided and bullying takes shape in the form of students using slurs based on race or perceived sexual orientation, or targeting special education students for abuse.

Challenge Day was a voluntary program at Thunder Mountain for students, and caused them to explore their behaviors and differences with one another and encouraged students to "be the change they wanted to see."

Newton said the middle schools have anti-aggression programs and the elementary schools typically use a program called Second Step. He said the counseling departments have activities to specifically deal with bullying.

Newton said the way administration handles bullying has improved in the past couple years.

"There's a change in how (the administration) responds to bullying and hazing," he said. "Beyond the investigation, they take hazing very seriously. Much more seriously than in years past."

The district policy on hazing includes a fixed consequence of suspension.

Newton is responsible for collecting district-wide data on bullying incidents, and has been for three years.

"Last year, there was close to a slight drop in the number of disciplinary incidences related to bullying," he said. "...The challenge oftentimes is getting students to report it so that the principals can take action. Bullying is an ongoing problem and it's a difficult one to address because it is oftentimes not reported, it's often difficult to see - versus having a fist fight, that is a real obvious thing you can respond to. What we want to be able to do is create an environment where both students and adults are working together to first set a climate of acceptance of differences within a student population and the second is the students, along with the adults, have zero tolerance and are willing to step forward and identify where bullying is occurring."

At the high school level, 44 incidents were dealt with last year at the principal level, which accounted for 7 percent of total disciplinary incidences. In middle school, 66 incidences were reported, which accounted for 9 percent of disciplinary incidences. On the elementary school level, 62 incidents were reported, accounting for 4 percent of disciplinary incidents.

Dave Stoltenburg, principal of Harborview Elementary, said their counselor uses the Second Step curriculum, which addresses the K-5 program and helps students identify the language of bullies and how to respond back.

"It gives them some strategies and words they can use for when they're confronted," he said. "She also has some small groups where she works with students who might be victims of bullies or who might be bullies."

Stoltenburg also speaks with students on an individual basis if an incident is reported.

Next month, Harborview will host a behavior specialist who will help the district look at other strategies for handling bullying and hazing issues. Other schools will be invited to participate. Stoltenburg said the plan is to find more ways to support positive behaviors in students and give students the tools to combat bullying on their own. He said typically a bully will do their thing when there is the least amount of supervision.

Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School Principal Molly Yerkes said the school started an Aggressors, Victims and Bystanders program six years ago when a trainer from Anchorage came down. The exploratory teachers volunteered to take two weeks out of their curriculum to teach the program, while regular teachers support the program through activities. Yerkes said every year since the school has conducted a climate and connectedness survey and every year the results are more positive.

Art teacher Miah Lager, also at DZ, said the program works a little differently with grades 6-8.

The program was run with students at the beginning of the school year this year (usually it's done after winter break). Lager said each grade level watches a movie and she'll stop the movie at certain points to talk about behaviors and roles people are playing.

"They nicknamed me 'The Commercial,'" Lager said.

Sixth-graders watched The Ant Bully, and focused on vocabulary around victim, aggressor, passive bystander, aggressive bystander and problem-solving bystander.

"When you're standing by, you're allowing something to happen," she said. "We also talk about school policy. What happens if you're watching a fight? Are you part of that fight? You need to understand you're allowing this to happen and not trying to get help."

Seventh-graders watched the Karate Kid - the 1984 version - and they discussed the bullying in the movie. In eighth grade, the theme is more intense with the film Odd Girl Out, which addresses intimidation of teen peer pressure and social rituals of high school.

"We can all be an aggressor, we can all be a bully," Lager said.

Another element in the instruction is cyber bullying, which is a growing problem. Yerkes said it's a lot easier for a student to send a text message or e-mail with something hurtful because they aren't sitting in front of that person - seeing the reaction and the pain it causes. Lager said that's why the middle school is a cellphone-free zone -because it's so easy to hide a phone under a desk and send a quick message.

Lager has noticed a difference in students after the program, because they use the words taught and report incidents. She said she'll have students who come and talk to her and try and work through how to tell on another student responsibly.

Yerkes said she's noticed fewer office referrals on disciplinary incidents over the last six years and that the climate has more of a welcoming feel and more of a focus on education. She believes it's essential the middle schools have a program like this before high school, because it can help prevent those issues later on.

Signs on the doors and in hallways notify students that the school is a bully-free zone. Yerkes said students have other options of reporting troubles. Their student planners have a form they can fill out anonymously and drop into a box, or there is a hotline number they can call and report bullying - also anonymously.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at

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