Bullying threatens students’ physical and emotional safety and can negatively impact their ability to learn.
Sadly, too many children in America are being bullied each year. According to stopbullying.gov, a federal government website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, between 25 percent and 33 percent students have been bullied at school and most bullying happens in middle school.
In a recent survey published by the National Association of Elementary School Principals, school leaders say that they worry about the well-being of their students and that emotional bullying is one of their top 10 concerns.
Fortunately, school staff can make schools safer by working to prevent bullying and by sending the message that bullying is unacceptable.
Research shows that prevention is crucial. A 2001 study of two schools in Canada found that peers who intervene in bullying can stop it 57 percent of the time. And a 2013 study from the Congressional Research Service found that “school-based anti-bullying programs decreased bullying behavior by 20%-23%.”
That’s why prevention is so important to City Connects coordinators like C.J. McGowan.
For National Bullying Prevention Month, which was in October, McGowan, the City Connects coordinator at Ascension Catholic School, a K-8 school in Minneapolis, worked with teachers and other school staff to raise awareness by facilitating anti-bullying lessons and activities.
In one activity: “Everyone traced their foot on an orange piece of paper and cut out their footprint. And they wrote on it — or drew on it — what they would do, what they can do and will do to stop bullying.”
Orange is the anti-bullying color chosen by the nonprofit organization PACER, which founded the National Bullying Prevention Center.
“Some of the classrooms have put those feet on the walls. And the kids want to show which ones they made,” McGowan says.
The students anti-bullying advice: “Be kind,” “Be inclusive,” “Tell an adult,” and “Ask them to stop.”
In one classroom, a teacher read a book about bullying and had a discussion. Other classes watched a video about bullying. In all the seventh-grade classes, there were in-depth conversations about bullying.
PACER also came to do puppet shows for the kindergarteners, first, second, and third graders.
The puppets acted out stories. One was about a girl who was excluding another girl. Another story was about a boy who didn’t realize how intimidating he was being, so he went home and worked with his mother to make a plan to behave differently.
“Part of what we’re trying to do,” McGowan says, “is have kids understand that no one deserves to be bullied, and nothing they did caused the bullying. And that everyone has the right to feel safe at school.”
McGowan even uses the national statistics on bullying to make her point.
“When we told the seventh graders that 20 percent of our community could be bullied, we said that means that 68 kids in our community could be bullied, and they were like ‘What? That’s a lot of people!’” McGowan says of sharing national statistics with students.
Another strategy is to have ongoing conversations.
“We keep saying to students that you’ve got to tell an adult. It’s difficult to handle bullying on your own.”
“But middle schoolers will respond that bullies tell you that you’re a ‘narc,’ or a ‘tattle-tale,’ so we have to explain that bullies want you to feel intimidated and like you’re have no power, so you need to get help to have more power.”
This is the work of City Connects coordinators: they connect students to resources; they lead school initiatives, they collaborate with school staff, and they help students develop social-emotional skills.
What McGowan says about bullying is also true about her job overall: “It has to be a multifaceted approach or it’s not going to be strong enough.”