Welcome to the conversation!

Welcome to the conversation!

Harriet Beecher Stowe's (1811-1896) best-selling anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), made her the most famous American woman of the 19th century and galvanized the abolition movement before the Civil War.

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Friday, November 30, 2012

Event Recap: Bullied No More

Salons at Stowe
November 29, 2012

Strategies for taking a stand against bullying -- for the bully, the bullied and the bystander.  Join the discussion with guests Catie Talarski, Co-Producer of the public radio special BULLIED: Teen Stories from Generation PRX, and Council Brandon, a teen featured in the radio program.

Catie Talarski is the Senior Producer of “Where We Live,” WNPR’s morning news program.  She got her start in documentary radio at the Salt Institute in Portland Maine. She has produced several award-winning programs and her work has aired on NPR, Hearing Voices, Studio 360, and member stations across the country.  Catie launched “The Ear Cave,” a listening session hosted by a rotating cast of local radio professionals at a Hartford coffeehouse. And her Radio Adventure Theater is an experimental variety show combining music, theater, poetry and documentary radio.  Early this year she worked with the Public Radio Exchange to produce the hour-long youth special BULLIED: Teen Stories from Generation PRX.

Council Brandon, a sophomore at Watkinson School, was featured in the Bullied program. She lives in Hartford and enjoys singing, acting, writing, film and photography. From 4th through 8th grade at Noah Webster School, Council was bullied. As a result of the bullying, she skipped 5th grade, though that did not stop the harassment. She was asked to be involved in the Bullied documentary and agreed because she knows how common and pressing this issue is. 

 Catie Talarski
  • Produced radio documentary last February which was co-hosted with Council and another student, and produced with PRX (Public Radio Exchange) to learn what youth producers thought was important about bullying. The special aired on 32 channels across the country.
  • Bullying is a very complicated problem, often very difficult for youth to define – drawing the line between playing around and being destructive is often challenging.
  • Catie played and audio clip produced by Cassanova Robinson, an Indian student, who has been bullied and called a “terrorist” because he plays shooting video games.
    •  His guidance counselor put it back on him – told him that he needed to draw his own lines with his friends and not allow them to call him names.
    •   Catie raised the question: Is this more challenging that it sounds?
  • Catie played clip by Destiny Chandler, from Middletown, who was bullied because of the size of her forehead.
    • Her mother told her it was her responsibility to speak up, but Destiny said it was difficult to admit she was being bullied.
    • Catie raised the question: Who do kids go to for help?
  • Catie played a clip by Cynthia who suggests ways to stand up to bullying
    •  Group interventions, community bullying, and creating positive peer pressure is easier than targeting a certain person; need to build empathy. 
    •  Catie raised the point: Is a stigma attached to bullying?
  • Stage legislature passed Public Act 11-232, An Act Concerning the Strengthening of School Bullying Laws (available at: http://cga.ct.gov/2011/ACT/Pa/pdf/2011PA-00232-R00SB-01138-PA.pdf)
    • Bullying is defined in the law as: “(A) the repeated use by one or more students of a written, oral or electronic communication, such as cyberbullying, directed at or referring to another student attending school in the same school district, or (B) a physical act or gesture by one or more students repeatedly directed at another student attending school in the same school district, that: (i) Causes physical or emotional harm to such student or damage to such student's property, (ii) places such student in reasonable fear of harm to himself or herself, or of damage to his or her property, (iii) creates a hostile environment at school for such student, (iv) infringes on the rights of such student at school, or (v) substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school. Bullying shall include, but not be limited to, a written, oral or electronic communication or physical act or gesture based on any Substitute Senate actual or perceived differentiating characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin,  gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, socioeconomic status, academic status, physical appearance, or mental, physical, developmental or sensory disability, or by association with an individual or group who has or is perceived to have one or more of such characteristics”
    • Catie raised the questions: How do we work as a community with parents and families to protect kids from being bullied? What are best practices for schools?

Council Brandon
  • Was bullied grades 4-8, was a minority as a young white girl in a school of predominantly Hispanic and African American students, as a student serious about getting an education.
  •  She had attended a school in Springfield before transferring to Noah Webster School (pre-K through 8th grade) in 4th grade – she was an outsider, it was difficult to find friends even in 4th grade.
  • At the beginning of 5th grade was cornered in a bathroom stall at the end of school. The girl who cornered her told her friends in the bathroom: “Hey guys we need to give Council a makeover” and said how she didn’t like her clothes, the way she dressed, etc. Council immediately left the bathroom, but the experience still affected her.
    • Council told her teacher but it took time, she was afraid to admit there was a problem and turn it into a public situation.
    • Council skipped 5th grade and avoided having to admit there was a problem with bullying.  
  • 6th grade was also difficult because everyone had friends, but her homeroom included the clique of popular girls who she wanted to befriend in order to be socially accepted.
    • She would hang out with them, but they would make fun of her behind her back and to her face, saying they were joking because they liked her – she tried to convince herself that they were joking and from 6th grade until 8th grade wanted to be friends with them even though they “hated her.”
    • She then became a bystander during bullying, also becoming involved in bullying herself – it was motivated by her desire to fit in and “become one of them”.
  •  Last year Catie (friends with Council’s mother) asked if she would be part of the documentary and he agreed because it is important to raise awareness about bullying - everyone can do something about bullying.
    • Council helped Catie write the script and organize stories from all around the world. It was a powerful experience because she realized her story was not unique – there are others out there who have gone through the same thing and could relate to the other stories.
    •  She interviewed a cyber-bullying expert from Arizona who talked about initiatives to regulate bullying worldwide and examine what kids are saying to each other while online (what bullies can do to stop themselves and how kids can recognize bullying).

What could have been done to change what you experienced?
  • Council: Adults in school were not recognizing what was happening, or if they did they did not do enough to stop it. Her parents went to the principal who confronted certain students on their behavior, but that did not stop anything – having to write apology letters does not change behavior
  • Council: The teachers did not understand that students in their classroom were being hurt and maintained the mentality that “middle schoolers were being middle schoolers”.  It would have helped to have teachers better trained to identify bullying.
It must have been difficult the first time you told your parents you were being bullied – what was their reaction?
  • Council: She did not remember when she first told them, but was in middle school. She would tell them what was happening, but never added it up to being bullying.
  •   Council: It was hard to talk about it “because they’re my parents…they won’t understand,” and it was scary to hear them say they were going to the principal – students never want the principal to know that there is a problem. The principal was not very helpful, not very productive – she worked better with younger children and did not associate with 6th, 7th and 8th graders

Did you ever consider going to another school?
  • Council: No, because she did have some friends, and it would have been a lot harder to start again at a new school where students were again already in cliques.
What was the most significant factor that effected this? Are there things the school could have done to talk about bullying to change the culture and behavior? What do you think could work better in schools?
  • Council: It would have helped if Noah Webster weren’t pre-K through 8 so administrators could work with an age group they felt comfortable with. Some form of bullying program would have been very helpful to her and others who were also being severely bullied.
  • Council: Attending the school early on, rather than transferring in 4th grade, would have allowed her to find a group of friends.

You said you weren’t sure when you put it all together – what were the effects on you and how did it affect your daily life (did it affect your classwork, what were the signs)?
  • Council: A lot happened during lunch time, when teachers were too busy monitoring to notice, and she played a lot of it off and ignored it to avoid embarrassing herself or classmates.
Audience member stated, there seems to be a similarity between bullying and both segregation and women in the work place: it took a lot of education to explain why races should not be segregated, and has also taken a lot of education and time to not separate women in the workplace (the idea that “men will be men”). We seem to be accepting the need to address bullying much faster than segregation and women in the workplace, but is still a lot of education that needs to happen.

Why was the state law written just for students and not adults?
  • Jo Ann Freiburg (State Department of Education): We should not focus on bullying and bullies but on school environment
    • Connecticut’s law on bullying dates to 2002, amended in 2006, 2008, and sweeping changes in 2011. We are among 49/50 states with a bullying law – each has a different definition of bullying.
    • Have never wanted to tackle the issue of adult bullying, want to address student-to-student
    • 1,400 cases sent to the Department of Education each year, 10% involve adults.
    • We did not start to address bullying until Columbine – she would argue that prior to Columbine, we were not asking the question “Are you being bullied?” – prior to Columbine such actions were seen simply as teasing, poking fun etc.
    • True prevention is creating an environment and empowering adults to recognize lower-level bullying, which if not identified will escalate.
    • We have to lose the label of bullying, change the conversation to not be on bullying and switch to the goal of having a positive school environment.
    • National school climate standards – is the direction which we ought to be moving; each student must reach a level/goal of school climate standards like CMT scores, etc.
    • Is the dilemma that by legislating, we are saying to adults and schools that their responsibility is to identify bullying and intervene, rather than that schools need to intervene with any act of harassment, bullying, etc.

Audience member recalled an experiment based around blue- and brown-eyed third grade children and empathy. One day the blue eyed children were made to feel good and the brown eyed children were brought down, then vice versa. The best way to learn something is to feel it. We would like to act in a way of “do unto others as you would have done unto you” – learning cannot be a lecture or a law, it needs to be an experience.

A fourth grade teacher shared that earlier that day, during recess, a group of girls cornered a male student and caused him to cry. Teachers intervened and had planned to call parents, but when reported to the Vice Principal were told that because it wasn’t repeated behavior it was not bullying (could not call the parents) – in the morning, the boy will get the same punishment as the girls. The Vice Principal told the teacher “not to use the ‘b’ word” (bullying).
  • Another teacher in the audience was being bullied by her high school students. She learned the student was also being bullied at home, and she is now part of the school’s anti-bullying task force. She suggested that the teacher align herself with others with the same mindset to speak up for her.
  • Jo Ann: Being told “not to use the ‘b’ word” shows that “bullying” label is a stigma.
    • Every public school, charter and magnet must have a safe school climate specialist in place, as well as a district- wide safe school climate coordinator, a safe-school climate committee (does not to have that name and can be an existing committee – must have at least 1 parent on the committee).
    • Council’s mother: The school was adamant that she not file a bullying complaint (school never mentioned that she could file a complaint, had to learn from someone associated with the Board of Education). Many parents do not realize it is an option – it benefits the school to not let people know they can file a complaint because it avoids a paper trail.
  • It is not enough to make changes in school: teachers are under the gun with standards they need to achieve and oversized classrooms, and administrators with other problems and pressures. Classroom sizes need to be smaller and need to be emotionally supportive environments.
  • It seems that you cannot say anything that could be construed as affecting a child’s good self-esteem – there is an emphasis on self-esteem vs. dealing with empathy; there should be more focus on empathy.
  • Council: Empathy is tricky because you need to support kids and give them  positive self-esteem, but then if you take it too far you make them feel self-righteous.
  • There was an editorial in the Hartford Courant that students with high self-esteem are more likely to be bullies than those with courage (http://www.courant.com/features/parenting/hc-parenting-self-esteem-rosemond-20121128,0,5751081.story).
  • Resentment and envy are some of the causes of bullying. Those who are being bullied need to speak up – the “the squeaky wheel gets the oil”.
  • Audience member works at a school cafeteria – she has no kids of her own and was not hired to enforce the rules, but becomes a disciplinarian because the teachers do not speak up and notice bullying. Bullying needs to be discussed and talked about.
    • She has also noticed that adults become bullies as well because they were not taught to be civil – were bullied themselves and do not know to not take aggression out on others.
  • The conversation is often about victim-bully, but bystander is also an important role – everyone needs to takes responsibility and that are part of the problem if not part of the solution. Part of the solution is creating a culture of support.
  • An audience member teaches at a school that not only has an anti-bullying taskforce, but an “Upstanders” student group which teachers students to stand up to bullying themselves.
  •  Posed question: “How much do we do in our daily lives where we don’t think about that we’re doing and how it effects other people?”
  •  Bullies do what they do because it’s the only way they know how to have their needs met – bullies have been bullied too.
    • Jo Ann: Most bullies have a role model who has bullied them or is a bully
  • Council’s grandmother: Being a victim of bullying is a very complicated issue, and the culture is extremely important. At Council’s old school in Springfield there was a zero tolerance policy – schools have to have a policy in which such acts are not accepted and addressed
    • Jo Ann: “That’s the climate, that’s the work that has to be done”
In the corporate world, is the label of “harassment” – should there be such a label to get the help that is needed?
  • Council: Yes, it is a way to have others understand the “what” and “how.”

 What does one do about insidious bullying (being left out)? (ie. Everyone in the class being invited to a party accept one person – you cannot regulate friendships, activities, etc., but is still bullying)
  • Council: Experienced the exclusion as well, but cannot regulated who people are friends with or what they do outside of school. From her point of view, there is nothing you can do to change the situation. If someone is excluding you, you are better off without them.

Is bullying a mandated report?
  • Jo Ann: Everyone is a mandated reporter by law, but a reporter of what? Today, everything is bullying – someone reported that their four year old child’s friend ripped their paper and it was bulling. When everything becomes bullying, nothing is bullying. Is a lot of in-class harassment which may not be bullying.

An audience member watched Catie and Council’s documentary and did filming of his own with students in Bridgeport, but the students did not understand what bullying was and if they were being bullied or being bullies. He had a student who was being bullied by an older girl, but the family and societal message to “man up” and accept it, caused him to not recognize it as bullying.

A teacher said it is difficult to sort out the real situation when it comes to bulling (who is lying, etc.). She recommended sitting students down in the same room and asking them to answer the following questions independently and in separate parts of the room: What happened? What’s the rule? What did you do? What should be the next step?

A study from the 1950s turned students against each other, then brought them together to share common problems and feelings – the students then reconciled and were better connected because of mutual empathy.

Were you ever sat down with your bullies to discuss the problems and what was happening?
  • Council: No, it was never done.
  • Jo Ann: Is not about mediation, it is about power and relationship, especially with girls. Mediation is not a good strategy in general.

·         Catie: Hearing stories from young producers and students about why bullying was important to them was a good thing to be a part of. Are many other intertwined issues – like suicide – which are connected with bullying
·         Jo Ann: “If it’s mean, intervene.” People bully on those who cannot self-advocate, like children. Kids who are of different races, ethnicities, regions, etc. are even more likely to be targets.

Inspiration to Action:
  • Stand up for people that are being bullied
  • Find out if your school has an anti-bullying program or policy
  • Change the stigma around the term “bully” – focus on what is causing someone to bully
  • Don’t ignore the signs of bullying
  • Advocate for teacher training and in-school anti-bullying training/awareness
  • Focus on school climate improvement
  • Need true prevention instead of intervention
  • National School Climate Standards – equity for all
  • Learn and teach empathy
  • Find out if your school has a Safe School Climate Specialist or Committee (Safe School Climate Coordinator at district level)
    • It is the law for all public, charter and magnet schools
  • As a parent, know what resources exist
  • Work to create emotionally supportive climates in schools
  • Stop abusive behavior and tell people you won’t stand for bullying
  • Don’t be a passive bystander – create a culture of support
  • Be an upstander
  • Work to make mean spirited behavior unacceptable everywhere
  • When everything is bullying – nothing is bullying
  • Define what bullying is
  • Have students write up incident reports (good for problem solving)
  • “If it’s mean intervene”
  • Watch the video “Stop Bullying Now” (available at your local school or library)
  • Read Public Act 11-232 http://cga.ct.gov/2011/ACT/Pa/pdf/2011PA-00232-R00SB-01138-PA.pdf)

Explore the links featured on our Takeaway Sheet for more information and ways you can take action!
    Bullied No More Salon Takeaway      

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