Underscore: Combating Bullying: How Can We Help the Helpless?
Story by Danielle Tyler
The dictionary defines the term “bully” as someone who uses strength or power to intimidate those who are weaker. Quarrelsome, overbearing and oppressor are common synonyms of a word that describes a systemic epidemic in our communities. In 2015 one out of every four children reported being bullied during the school year.
Physical, verbal, social and cyber bullying isn’t just found in the public school systems. This disease knows no creed, race, age or gender and to stop it from spreading, we must admit there is a problem, educate ourselves and be proactive in enforcing change.
Change doesn’t necessarily require a significant amount of time, especially when advocating and working collectively with each other to achieve a common goal. Isaiah 1:17 tells us to “learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed” (NIV). God has called on us to serve Him by serving others.
Seventh-day Adventists are working toward a solution. Here are several ways Adventist churches, schools and members in the Columbia Union are helping to put an end to bullying.
Stepping in and Stepping up
Carol Rey, a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher at Pennsylvania Conference’s Reading Junior Academy in Reading, stepped in one year to foster change in her classroom where bullying occurred on a daily basis. Her efforts sparked a school-wide initiative that has garnered astounding results, nearly eliminating bullying in the entire academy.
“During that particular school year, three or four years ago, the negative energy was palpable,” says Rey. “I tried talking to students and handling each situation as it happened, but the issue kept resurfacing.”
After Christmas break, Rey felt she had to do more. One day, she asked students to write down the names of those in the class who were bullies, and the answers revealed that half of the class was labeled as such. Rey took action by requesting materials on bullying and, every day for the rest of the year, took her students out of the classroom to the library to discuss the effects of bullying.
“Academics came second because, if students didn’t feel safe, then they weren’t learning,” she says. “We had open discussions daily to bring awareness about this epidemic because most of them didn’t think they were bullying—they called it teasing. We talked about events from the day before, how to react to a bully, and what to do if they saw someone being bullied.”
For Rey, it was important to make students aware of what they were doing and the lasting effects their words and actions can have on people. Rey’s proactive stance prompted change, leading to the implementation of the BKTOA (be kind to one another) anti-bullying campaign at Reading Junior Academy.
On the first week of school every year, students attend an assembly where bullying is re-enacted in the form of various scenarios. Students sign posters and pledge that their school is a no-bullying zone.
Creating an Anti-Bullying Program
If one isn’t aware, then one isn’t able to make a difference. An anti-bullying program educates individuals on the many different forms of bullying and ways to address this issue. The program that Reading Junior Academy rolled out was inspired by the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which has been endorsed by the Columbia Union Conference Office of Education, and implemented in hundreds of schools across the country.
Spring Valley Academy (SVA) in Centerville, Ohio, found that it has room to grow in living up to its motto: Know, Follow, Share Jesus—specifically in the way students treat and speak to each other. Principal Darren Wilkins, shared his mission with the school community on protecting the school’s students and providing a “great environment for them to thrive.” In his April 2016 Spring Valley Academy Happenings editorial in the Visitor, titled “We’re Pro-Kindness,” Wilkins shared information about the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, explaining how the school community would use the resources Olweus provides to help support this initiative:
• Parent in-service to better understand the school’s new approach and how they can support the school’s efforts at home
• Free webinars and online courses
• Resources for warning signs and the prevention of bullying
This past spring, the New Jersey Conference held a two-day training for all teachers, principals and staff on bullying prevention using the same curriculum. The training was sponsored by the La Sierra University Conflict Resolution Center (Calif.) as a collaborative effort to educate school officials about bullying and discuss initiatives to implement that help prevent and/or stop bullying.
Be Consistent in Your Message and Mission
Once staff step in, step up and create an anti-bullying initiative at a school, church or home; consistency is key to its success.
Brody Wiedemann, a teacher at Potomac Conference’s Richmond Academy in Richmond, shared that his school regularly publishes tips on bullying in their newsletter. They also have a student who transferred in from a public school where he was being bullied. Since transitioning, the student is no longer a victim of bullying and is doing well.
A young girl at Reading Junior Academy wasn’t going to return to the school due to the extent of bullying she encountered. That student was involved in the dialogue that Carol Rey initiated every day and, in conjunction with the BKTOA initiative that was implemented, she witnessed change, and ultimately decided to stay.
Beyond the Classroom
Bullying isn’t limited to our schools. Adults are victims as well and can experience forms of bullying in the workplace, at church or at home. “Childhood bullies can grow up to be adult bullies,” writes Jim Redfield, retired pastor and Olweus trainer. “Individuals who practice bullying behavior will use it in any relationship, whether it is their own family or work places, neighborhoods, social groups, sports organizations or congregations.”
The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program is designed for use beyond the classroom. And since the program’s 2012 implementation, more and more Adventist Church entities are striving to live by this motto: be cognizant, be vocal and be involved. To learn about bullying and ways to get involved in your church, school or community, visit stopbullying.gov.
Danielle Tyler is a writer, aspiring novelist and graduate student.