School officials work to prevent bullying in TN Valley Schools

School officials work to prevent bullying in TN Valley Schools

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.

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.

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.

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.

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