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Darkness Visible

Illustration by Dung Hoang | Source photography by Leng Hong Lim

Darkness Visible (continued)

Bradshaw has put together a list of potential effects of bullying. For victims, they include anxiety, depression, lack of sleep and dislike of school. Perpetrators tend to feel the same way about school, while assuming that aggressive behavior is acceptable. And both groups are at a higher risk than their classmates for low academic performance and/or dropping out.

Which is why Bradshaw, who’s been researching the subject for 10 years, has also advised federal, state and district officials on bullying prevention. Her relationship with Anne Arundel schools, in particular, is unique. With the district’s help, she designed a Web-based bullying survey, which serves as an annual data collection system on bullying’s effects on students, staff and parents in the district’s 120 schools.

The questions vary—depending on who, anonymously, takes the survey—but they cover common ground. Both students and teachers, for example, are asked where bullying occurred (e.g., classroom, hallway, playground, bus), in what form (name-calling, rumors, teasing, pushing), and what the student’s reaction was (ignored it, told an adult, bullied back). Among the questions asked of parents is how they reacted when their children were bullied (talked to the child, the bully, the bully’s parents or someone at the school).

“It’s a research-based measure [to describe] what bullying looks like,” explains Bradshaw, who’s featured the findings in numerous papers written since the survey was introduced in 2005. Theoretically, each school can use the survey results to target problems and improve prevention strategies, but they’re not required to, and many schools, like Central Middle, focus more on the number of incidents officially filed as “bullying.”

Chuck Buckler, director of Student Services and Alternative Programs in the Maryland State Department of Education, says, in many schools, that number has increased—and for good reason. “The data may suggest that schools have more incidents [than in previous years],” he explains, “but it’s really a matter that they have more kids, parents and friends willing to file a report. And that means the awareness is there.”

Awareness, Bradshaw says, is the first step in tackling the problem. But it’s not an easy first step for many schools, where the design and implementation of prevention programs vary. Part of the challenge, she says, is that the causes of bullying and the incidents themselves are extremely complicated and, thus, demand more than a disciplinary approach. Ideally, the entire school community—students, teachers, administrators and parents—should participate in an effort that’s sustained over time and not changed from year to year, depending on resources and who’s in charge.

It should also begin, at the very least, in elementary school. “You want to try to get in there early to get kids on track,” Bradshaw says, “because if you wait ’til they have problems, then [behaviors] might be entrenched and harder to change.”

At Central Middle School, the effort includes what she considers key to a whole-school approach—students. Says one BAC member, “We’re just trying to be a good influence for other students, the lower grades and stuff, and say, ‘Hey, bullying’s not cool. You should try to be better people.’”

Comments

This forum is closed
  • Lisa Muessig

    Kansas City, KS 05/12/2011 03:29:52 PM

    I liked the students' new lyrics and the use of the arts to raise awareness.

  • Cathy Readmond

    Bayview Campus 05/12/2011 04:14:39 PM

    What an inspiring article. I have a child ready to enter high school. I am thankful bullying is no longer looked at as a right of passage.

  • Teresa Wonnell

    Homewood campus 06/09/2011 08:52:32 AM

    I sent this article to my middle schooler's principal, and she shared it with her school counseling team. The school is going to discuss starting a student club similar to the one at Central. So I think it's an inspiring article as well!

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