Bullying a cruel part of school
Remember how painful it was to be a kid at times?
Experts are now saying the relentless teasing and shoving that seems a part of adolescence for many has driven victims to act out their feelings in various ways – some in an inappropriate manner.
Although bullying can’t be a justification for murder as in one of the alleged reasons behind this latest school shooting in San Diego, the old ‘boys will be boys’ notion of hurtful play is moving further from an acceptable level, according to school and law enforcement officials nationwide.
Lake Tahoe is no exception.
Counselors from South Tahoe Middle School plan to attend a workshop in the next few months called Bully Proofing Your School and share the lesson in the classrooms. The lesson is specific to each grade.
The premise behind the 5-lesson curriculum is to transform the 85 percent of students making up the silent majority who are afraid to stand up for what’s right into a vocal, caring majority that demonstrates empathy.
This program is the latest in several efforts made in schools nationwide, Lake Tahoe’s included, since Colorado’s Columbine High School shooting in April 1999 to stem the tide of violence and make schools a safe place to be.
The Colorado Legislature is working on a bill that would require school districts statewide to implement some sort of anti-bullying plan, the Associated Press reported.
According to a recent survey at South Tahoe Middle School, some kind of bullying behavior has affected more than half of the students.
“At this age, the drive for independence and a sense of control is strong,” said school counselor Suzanne Stuck, who learned about the anti-bullying program in a middle school conference 1999 in Orlando, Fla.
Stuck points to the family model as the basis behind the bully, one of the primary lessons in the curriculum.
“All you have to do is look at the family,” she said.
Like other experts who have hit the airwaves lately, Stuck adds that in her experience she’s found that bullies act the way they do because they’re often victims of domestic violence in the home.
In the anti-bullying class, victims of bullying behavior learn how to react to the negative attention and witnesses learn how to step up to the plate for their fellow classmates.
In the case of Santana High School student Charles Williams, many bystanders were aware that the suspect was the butt of frequent teasing, like the suspects in the Columbine School shootings.
He apparently used a weapon to act out his aggression.
South Shore schools have a no-tolerance policy against weapons on campus in both Lake Tahoe and Douglas County school districts. A student will be immediately expelled if caught with a weapon.
Federal funding since the Columbine shooting has fulfilled Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini’s wish list for high school resource officers.
“We want to provide the best environment for these kids,” he said, agreeing it’s hard enough to learn classroom lessons without worrying about the hard knocks of tragedy on the street.
For lessons in anger management and conflict resolution, both the Tahoe middle and high schools have additional programs designed to intervene on an as-needed or consistent basis. Asone example, Tahoe Youth and Family Services brings a counselor into the high school weekly for group sessions with at-risk males.
Are the efforts working?
According to officials, yes they are.
“The students tend to resist at first, but then they end up looking forward to it,” middle school counselor Marilyn Pawling said.
Even if it means the prevention is never needed, the protection still needs to be in place, Washoe County School District psychologist Mickey Alegria contends.
“It’s true it can happen anywhere. Look at all the statistics of violent incidents in smaller communities. It’s logical to prepare for that kind of thing,” said Alegria, who also teaches an anger management class at the South Tahoe Women’s Center once a week for adults.
Those in his class are taught that anger isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But he takes society to task in how we express it.
Alegria, who’s counseled youth for 10 years, wants to expand his program to teens.
“If they don’t get the support they need, they’re likely to carry out an act. It might not be to the extreme, but it will be something,” he said, referring to violent behavior.
He has agreement from the Lake Tahoe Unified School District board President Wendy David.
“As children, we may not have learned the appropriate outlet for anger,” she said. “At this age, we may not have the connection between actions and consequences.”
Like experts in child behavior, the school board president is also sensitive to the notion that teen-agers who may hurt others may also turn the violence on themselves.
David said the South Lake Tahoe school district takes threats of violence very seriously, adding there’s a protocol in place to handle such an event.
After the Columbine massacre, David, a 28-year resident at Lake Tahoe, recalled copycat bomb threats here like those the nation is currently experiencing.
“We can’t put our heads in the sand. We have to admit this happens everywhere,” she said.
The following is a list of FBI-released risk factors found in school shooters. They include:
-Low tolerance for frustration
-Poor coping skills
-Failed love relationships
-Resentment over real or perceived injustices
-Lack of trust
-Negative role models such as Adolf Hitler
-Unusual interest in sensation-filled violence
-Fascination with violence-filled entertainment
(Second Breakout box)
A Safe School Hotline is available that allows students to report an incident anonymously. Call 800-4-1-VOICE, ext. 359.
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