MARYLAND – More than 160,000 U.S. students stay home from school each day from fear of being bullied. This is just one of many reasons that October is National Bullying Prevention Month.
The Worcester County School District participated Wednesday, by having students and staff wear the color orange for Unity Day: "Make it Orange and Make it End!" However, for the school district, along with many schools along the Eastern Shore, bully prevention is more than just a month-long campaign.
Kicking off this school year, the Worcester County School is implementing the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program for the first time. Among many components, it includes a classroom meeting once a week to discuss bullying.
"They sit around and students talk about things that they're seeing as far as bullying and ways to prevent it, not just in the school, but in the community and nationally as well," says Tim Gebhardt, a 6th grade Special Education teacher at Snow Hill Middle School.
In addition, the program provides a definition for the word bullying, which some researchers argue, has been misused and abused in the last few years
"I think when you overuse the word bullying it takes away from things that are actually bullying, and creates kind of this misperception," says Gebhardt. "The definition creates a common perception so we can kind of train students, and define what is and isn't bullying."
However, even if an issue is not considered bullying, it may still be a problem that school officials need to address, which is why they are not taking any chances.
In the Wicomico County School District, students who feel they are being bullied can fill out a bullying report, and within 24 hours an investigation is underway. If the claim is valid, depending on the case, the consequences can be serious.
"It can go from informal counseling to suspension days out of school," says Andrew Turner, Pupil Personnel Worker for Safe Schools in the Wicomico County School District. "We could even have law enforcement involved."
Lori Batts, Supervisor of Counseling at the Wicomico County School District, says they are not doing a district-wide campaign for bullying prevention, but many of the schools are doing their own individual campaigns. They are creating awareness for National Cyber Awareness month, and are holding a "cyber safety" assembly for all fourth graders in the county that will address three objectives.
"We're focusing on the fact that what you put on the Internet never goes away, if you wouldn't say it in person you wouldn't say it online, and also we're making sure students understand that not everybody is who they claim to be online," says Batts.
Batts says they are holding the assembly for fourth graders because statistics show, that is the age they usually start going on the Internet. Next year, the district plans to hold a similar assembly for sixth grades, but in small groups that will talk more specifically about cyber-bullying.
"We'll focus on the law, its implications, and hear victim statements, so they can understand how it truly impacts individuals and some of the ramifications," says Batts.
Despite the many different strategies schools are using to promote "anti-bullying," most officials agree that it all starts with the victim breaking the silence.
"Kids are being bullied and won't say anything about it, and in many cases, someone else is talking to us about how the victim is being bullied by someone else," says Turner. "We want to know, we need to get the information to keep people safe."
For more about National Bullying Prevention Month, visit the PACER center's website.
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