School officials work to prevent bullying in TN Valley Schools

Published: Aug. 2, 2017 at 1:25 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 9, 2017 at 7:24 AM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - If you're a parent and your child is headed back to school, the most important thing is their safety. One of the things that could impact that is bullying.

A repeated threat to harm with a purpose and harassment" is how Huntsville City Schools describe bullying.

Huntsville City Schools' Coordinator of School Counseling services is Donna Clark.

"We tell teachers to take [bullying] seriously," said Clark.

Clark has been with the district for about 20 years. She says, she's seen the issue get worse but in different ways.

"I think on some level bullying has increased for cyber bullying. Another form of bullying is relational aggression. Students purposely exclude," said Clark.

"School age children, especially middle school age, they have a very strong tribal instinct. They want to join the crowd," said Dr. Kenneth Sullivan, a psychologist at The Hearth in Huntsville.

He's spoken to both types of children: ones who are bullied and the ones who are the bullies.

"The ones that bully are insecure or overcompensating for their sense of weakness. The bigger problem is the ones that consider themselves cool. We never want the kids getting bullied - for that to be their problem. It's all of our problems when we have bullying in the schools. We want to foster a culture where the main group of the school includes and is an inclusive group regardless of differences, and hopefully even embrace differences. [Bullying] doesn't help to toughen kids up. That's in stories and movies. It leads kids to notice when someone is ganging up on them no one steps up. That's not a lesson we want kids in America to be learning," said  Dr. Sullivan.

Alabama schools have strict guidelines to follow and policies in place from the state designed to prevent bullying. At many Tennessee Valley Schools, they go a step further with special anti-bullying programs. Clark says, at Huntsville City Schools, they use the "No Place for Hate" school-wide initiative.

"Schools pick three activities they can do to promote anti-bullying and also tolerance and acceptance and diversity in their school," said Clark.

Huntsville also uses a bullying prevention curriculum, anonymous alerts and a new form parents and students can fill out about bullying incidents. You can go to your child's school website and the form is on the specific school's main page called "Bullying Report Form." They also train the faculty on bullying and harassment.

"We are addressing it on every level we possibly can. Do we still have bullying incidents? Yes. I do think we have a better school climate," said Clark.

"It's something we have to constantly work on and it's not going to go away. We can knock it back. Having a culture in the school that it's popular to not bully," said Dr. Sullivan.

WAFF called every school district in Northern Alabama to find out what they do to prevent bullying in their schools. Madison City Schools, Morgan and Franklin, and Madison County Schools all have anti-bullying programs.

Madison City Schools' Public Relations Manager, John Peck, went into detail about their anti-bullying efforts. One way students can alert staff of a bullying incident is "Text to Protect." You can find the information here.

Peck sent WAFF this statement:

"Anti-bullying efforts in Madison City Schools are mostly proactive, centering largely on relationship building. We do have the anonymous text program which provides a means for kids to report a concern, an issue with someone, or something they had heard. The text program is managed by police through our SROs. The SRO program assigns officers exclusively to a school so they can get to know students personally and build relationships that open those lines of communication.

Our district feels another anti-bullying approach is to create a climate of acceptance and understanding of one another. A variety of national, researched based programs are utilized by our schools including "Leader in Me" and "Caring Schools Community." These are school-based social and emotional learning approaches that teach ways every child can be a leader, deal with stress and depression, kid's attitudes about themselves and others, misbehavior, aggression and other concepts.

The superintendent has a student advisory committee that meets regularly made up of student reps from every school. It is a platform for them to voice ideas and concerns. There are advisory advocate programs in our secondary schools that pair every student with an adult mentor. Our school counseling staff believes this helps thwart bullying by fostering open communication with adults in the school system.

One really exciting program school leaders believe is making a difference is the S2S (Student to Student) Mentoring program at every school. It is student led and student driven.  The S2S chapter in each school initiate contact new students and typically organize around a social or reception at the school. The format is very informal and may include "ice-breaker" type of activities to help everyone get to know each other. The aim is to make newcomers feel welcome and have an instant pool of friends to introduce them around and orient them to the school. While S2S began as a way to welcome military transfers, it was expanded to be an outreach to every new student. A common aspect of bullying is teasing kids you don't know who may be different than you. So, S2S has been found to help new kids and established classmates get to know each other right off the bat.

Other schools have initiated off-shoots of S2S, like Discovery Middle School for instance, which formed a "Kindness Club" two years ago that is going strong. The Kindness Club goes throughout the school doing random and often anonymous acts of kindness for students, such as leaving positive notes or small tokens that make them feel accepted.

Madison City Schools is also big into modeling servant leadership which shifts the focus from self to helping others. Examples:  the partnership with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital through the annual district-wide campaign, homecoming "give back" floats where donations are collected by float sponsors for charitable causes, food and clothing drives for places like the rescue mission or Manna House, and "day of service" volunteering by students on ACT testing day who are not taking the test."

- John Peck, Public Relations Manager, Madison City Schools.

Morgan County Schools' Director of Secondary Education, Patrick Patterson, explained a mentoring program implemented in their district. Patterson sent WAFF this statement:

"Morgan County Schools student mentoring program is designed to build positive relationships between teachers, students and parents by providing each student with at least one adult Mentor in school; advocating and communicating on behalf of that student.

This program has been at the heart of our superintendent, Mr. Bill Hopkins Jr., from the first day he took office and remains one of his non-negotiables. He expects teachers to build positive relationships with kids and as result help, those students mature into responsible adults.

Students are assigned to a mentor class of about 10 to 15 students. That class meets every day for at least 10 minutes. And each day the teacher has at least one meaningful personal conversation with a different child rotating through this class until he has met with each student in the entire class.

In addition, each teacher contacts every parent of their advisory class, in order to, establish positive lines of communication. After the initial contact, the Teacher & Parent determine the best mode of communication to use in order to be most effective. The teacher continues to contact the parent each month to communicate how things are going in school and to help the parents stay engaged in the student's instruction.

The mentor program has proven to reduce classroom disruptions and to help students stay more engaged. Just knowing that at least one adult in the school loves them and is supporting them and modeling appropriate behavior often times is the only thing a student needs in order to be successful. It also allows students the opportunity to discuss social problems they may be experiencing such as bullying and it allows our teachers to positively impact student behavior.

In short, as an adult, we may have forgotten some of the specifics we learned in school but you never forget the impact of a great teacher through their positive relationship with you. When you think back to your favorite teacher the thing that comes to mind is how they treated you. In Morgan County Schools, our goal is for each student to have that positive relationship stay in school and ultimately find success."

- Patrick Patterson, Director of Secondary Education, Morgan Co. Schools.

Franklin Co. Schools' District Administrator/Supervisor, Cynthia Forsythe explained their Student Harassment/Bullying Prevention training, activities, and implementation. Forsythe sent in this statement:

"Mandatory training for all employees is held annually regarding Student Harassment/Bullying Prevention. The Franklin County Board of Education Student Code of Conduct/Handbook outlines the school district policy in regards to Student Harassment/Bullying Prevention.

A copy of the Franklin County Student Handbook is given to each student annually and is also available on the district website (select the Student Service Section, Documents/Forms and then scroll down and click on the Franklin County Student Handbook for 2017-2018).

The reporting, investigation and complaint resolution procedures are explained within the Student Code of Conduct/Handbook.  Complaint forms are available at each school office, guidance counselor, and principal offices.

Character Counts! – District Student Harassment/Bullying Prevention curriculum designed to promote a school environment that is free of harassment, violence, threats of violence or intimidation.

Character Counts! - Focuses on Six Pillars of Character: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring & Citizenship.

Schools celebrate Character Counts! Week in October with school wide activities. This year the dates are October 16-20, 2017.

The Franklin County Chief Juvenile Probation Officer speaks to middle school students regarding social media, responsible electronic device communication, consequences of inappropriate messaging, etc."

- Cynthia Forsythe, District Administrator/Supervisor, Franklin Co. Schools

The Colbert County School System provided a response to its ongoing efforts of education and prevention:

The Colbert County School System (CCSS) goes to great lengths to ensure that our schools promote an environment that is free from harassment, intimidation, violence, threats of violence, and bullying.  Specific policies are in place which include anti-harassment and zero tolerance for fighting as well as a clear code of conduct and discipline measures.  Comprehensible reporting procedures exist for harassment and a complaint form that can be accessed on the district website or within the schools.  All faculty are trained annually on the policies and reporting procedures regarding harassment. 

            These policies and procedures are communicated to parents at the beginning of each school year and are included in the Student/Parent Information Guide.  Every parent signs an acknowledgement form which remains on file at the school.  Also, the district and schools websites provide parent resources in these areas.

            CCSS’s Guidance Counselors provide age-appropriate lessons on bullying, which are conducted in whole group, small group and individual settings.  We also celebrate a Bully Prevention Month.  Promotional materials (pencils, stickers, etc.) are provided to students, as well as brochures, handouts and books that are available at all schools.  In addition, videos and other class media such as Lizze Sider are presented. 

            Character education is taught to all students within the general classroom.  Teachers utilize positive behavior supports such as DOJO points, The Great Kindness Challenge, and the buddy bench.  The “Against All Odds” program is provided to at-risk students.  CCSS has also incorporated the Mendez Curriculum, Project Alert, and Get Real About Violence.  Visuals are located throughout the schools that contain the Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Safe Schools Hotline numbers.

            Community resources have been developed to provide supplementary training and support.  These include Safe Place, Shoals Crisis Center, Riverbend, Vocational Rehab, Children’s Advocacy Center, Healing Place, local law enforcement, and guest speakers such as Pete Key.  Referrals may be submitted for students to receive mental health services at the schools.

WAFF is currently working to find out what the other Tennessee Valley School Districts do to prevent bullying.

Copyright 2017 WAFF. All rights reserved.