In a perfect world, bullying wouldn’t exist. Unfortunately, some individuals are bullied at a young age and it can continue well into adulthood. A notable span of time that bullying seems to be heightened is during the high school years and concerns continue to increase nationally about the effect it has on potentially violent acts. Fallbrook Union High School District (FUHSD) has implemented a new program that teaches prevention techniques for bullying and violence within schools and the consequences it can bring.
“It is important that we nurture and support a culture of respect – that even though someone is different from you – regardless of what those differences are – they are still worthy of respect and deserve to be treated with dignity,” said FUHSD superintendent Dale Mitchell. “At the high school level, group dynamics are different from individual dynamics; the pressure to get along is quite strong.”
The district recently contracted with a non-profit organization called Community Matters and had a cross-selection of students on campus trained to be Safe School ambassadors on Feb. 21 and 22. Assistant Principal Adam Dawson coordinated the program, which was made financially possible by a San Diego JPA grant to offset the $5,500 cost.
Mitchell said the diverse Fallbrook High population makes it a good candidate for the program.
“Our student body is much more diverse than it ever has been, compared to 5, 10, 20 years ago,” said Mitchell. “There is much greater diversity in our population now. We are optimistic that this program will help make a difference for our students.”
Over 50 Fallbrook High students as well as a variety of staff members and parent volunteers were selected for the training based on their position and influence in the wide variety of social and special interest groups in the student body.
“Adults alone cannot keep schools safe; safe schools are built from the inside out,” said John Linney, senior trainer for Safe Schools.
Linney said based on a national poll, teens reported the following:
• 67 percent have felt left out
• 74 percent have been called names
• 46 percent have been hit or kicked
• 42 percent have been threatened
Based on input from the Fallbrook High students selected for the training, the local campus is very similar to the average when it comes to negative behavior displayed by a number of students.
Scenarios the local students described in the training session included, “A boy ran up behind me and slammed my head into my locker,” “People have thrown things at me at lunch,” “People call other people names behind their back,” “People make racist remarks about other people,” “People are called names because of their weight or looks,” and many others.
Linney explained that the primary types of bullying/mistreatments are: exclusion (feels left out), put downs (hurt feelings), intimidation (feels afraid), unwanted physical contact (feels violated), and acts against campus (affects everyone).
Some of the many costs relating to these types of mistreatment include: loss of self-confidence, the feeling of wanting to “get even,” the affected students turning to alcohol or drugs, and the school earning a bad reputation.
While in the training sessions, the selected students said social media has made bullying even worse. “The use of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram makes it really bad,” one female student said.
The goal, Linney said, is to “reach out to students who feel alone to help them fit in and make friends.”
“We encourage students to speak up in order to help other students make good choices about how they treat people and let them know it is not okay to insult, harass, taunt, bully, or fight others,” said Linney. “We train them to get adult help if a situation occurs where someone is being hurt and requires more help than they can provide.”
Freshman Chad Sloggett was one of the students selected to be included in the training. A self-described “surfer,” Sloggett said bullying is “definitely” a problem on campus.
“People get made fun of here on a daily basis; I think every person sees it happen at least one time each day,” said Sloggett. “It’s sad to see it that often because when it happens enough to someone they go into a shell.”
Sloggett said he found the Safe School program inspirational.
“I am loving this; it’s fun to participate and the acting (role-playing) is fun,” he said. “I think this [program] will help tons because the people in here are from all different cliques on campus.”
Mitchell said an additional impact bullying has is that in some cases it can result in the affected student suffering academically.
“If a student can attend school with the expectation that they will be treated respectfully by their fellow students and adults, they are in a much better position to pay attention to learning in the classroom than they would otherwise,” said Mitchell. “If the student has a safety concern, he or she will generally be thinking more about that than learning. That is a major point of interest related to this program and what we want to accomplish.”
Fallbrook High English teacher Cindy Campbell was one of the adults involved in the special training sessions.
“What is amazing about this program is that it provides an inside-out solution; it only asks kids to stand up for what’s right in their own social group – in their existing group – that makes it much safer,” said Campbell.
In looking at the wide variety of students selected for the training, Campbell said, “They really did pull participants in for training from all the different social and cultural groups on campus; that was a great idea.”
Schools are putting more focus on the problem of bullying and harassment since the passage of California Assembly Bill (AB) 9 “Seth’s Law” in the summer of 2012. Sponsored by Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), the law “strengthens existing state anti-bullying laws to help protect all California public school students.” The measure requires California schools to update policies and programs that focus on anti-bullying education and protects students who may be bullied based on race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and more. Seth’s Law is named for Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old California student who took his own life in 2010 after years of relentless peer abuse that educators allegedly knew about.
Instead of students standing by and watching an individual get bullied, Linney said the goal is to have the bystanders become ambassadors and step in to make a positive difference.
Campbell said given the dynamics of the program, she was “really hopeful” it would bring positive change.
“I think this program will make a better school out of Fallbrook High,” said Sloggett.
Mitchell said he believes similar programs may be in progress at area middle schools, which he felt would make a positive difference as students advance through the grades.
“I am confident the elementary districts are implementing strategies to help students be respectful of each other,” he said.