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Bullying more than just playground punches

Madison Mathews • Oct 31, 2012 at 10:15 PM

Bullying is a serious issue nearly every student is familiar with, and many of them are beginning to understand its long-term effects.

“Words hurt people a lot more than just if someone swings a punch at you, ’cause you remember them,” Indian Trail Intermediate School sixth-grader MaryAlice Baldwin said.

That was one of the major lessons Baldwin took away from the bullying series Indian Trail’s school counselors recently wrapped up.

Their lessons coincided with a campaign, “Bully-Free: It Starts With Me,” launched last month by the National Education Association, which urges educators and parents to stand up for bullied students.

About 160,000 students across the country stay home from school each day because of incidents surrounding bullying, according to statistics from the NEA.

Baldwin said bullying can take many forms, but its lingering effects are the same.

“It’s like harassing somebody by, like, words or physically or even emotionally, and I think it affects a bunch of people, like, just how it affects people with how they can just hurt for the rest of their life,” the 11-year-old student said.

Students in Johnson City Schools are taught from a young age about how damaging bullying can be, in addition to looking for signs that bullying is taking place.

“I think it affects them by making them feel bad and like they might feel scared and like they might not want to come back to school ever,” fifth-grader Jacob Oakley said. “If you’re a bully, then you need to stop and if you’re getting bullied, you need to know what to do.”

Reporting instances of bullying is one of the most important things school counselors stress in their anti-bullying lessons.

The policy defines bullying “as either physically harming a student or damaging his/her property, or knowingly placing the student in reasonable fear of such, or creating a hostile educational environment.”

School policy applies to instances where bullying is taking place on school grounds, at any school-sponsored activity, on school-provided transportation, at any school bus stop, or “through any electronic device which occurs during school hours, on any school property or during school sponsored events or activities.”

Through their lessons, Indian Trail counselors Pam Gilliam-Pearce, Connie Taylor and Linda Creamer make sure every student understands the difference between an instance of bullying as opposed to other acts — which is something that’s often difficult for young children to grasp.

“Every unkind and disrespectful thing a person does to you doesn’t necessarily qualify as bullying. Sometimes that’s hard for them to get at this age,” Gilliam-Pearce said.

Gilliam-Pearce said it becomes bullying when the victim has asked numerous times for the offending person to stop what he or she is doing.

Once an incident has been classified as bullying, the counselors then investigate the situation. When an instance of bullying has been discovered, the student or students responsible are brought in and their parents are called.

Punishment includes in-school suspension, loss of bus privileges, out-of-school suspension and lunch detention.

With the rise of cyberbullying, the counselors said those types of occurrences will happen more because teachers and parents might not be around to monitor the children.

“I really don’t think they understand the ramifications of what they do. For the victim, it’s not forgotten and it just kind of stays there and causes issues in the future,” Gilliam-Pearce said.

Gilliam-Pearce said there’s a simple rule that applies to cyberbullying and it’s written on a sign in her office.

“Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say offline. If you wouldn’t say it to a person’s face, then it’s not OK to say it behind their back either,” she said.

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