Increased awareness, prevention efforts cut down on bullying

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Reports of bullying at MFL MarMac Elementary have continued to drop in the last two years, a trend guidance counselor Kurt Gaylor attributes to increased awareness and prevention efforts.

Gaylor, who spoke at the school board meeting Jan. 8, said there were 79 reports of bullying in the 2014-2015 school year, and the number grew to 133 in 2015-2016. Last year, however, the total fell to 45. And so far this school year, just one report has been submitted.

“The totals have gone down a lot,” he said. “We’ve done things to help.”

Part of those efforts, said Gaylor, centered on identifying bullying problem areas at the school. Staff created a building diagram, tracking the locations where trouble occurred.

“We noticed a lot of bus and recess types of things,” he shared, “so we’ve really tried to work on those.”

Gaylor said his guidance classes have also educated students about what bullying is.

“A lot of kids didn’t know the difference between bullying and other problems,” he said.

Bullying, he explained, means someone is getting hurt, the behavior is repeated and unwanted and it’s done on purpose. That’s opposed to joking, which he characterized as everyone having fun, everyone being treated the same and no one getting physically or socially hurt.

Students also learn about the different types of bullying: social, physical, verbal and cyber bullying.

Although he’s seen few cases of cyber bullying at the elementary level, Gaylor said he now places a lot of emphasis on it with third graders.

“It’s important to lay the foundation now,” he said. “That stuff tends to be moving down [to lower age groups], so I’d rather head problems off early.”

He even has students Google their names, to see what pops up. It’s important for them to understand, Gaylor quipped, that they have an online footprint. 

“Awareness is power,” he said.

Adding to those education efforts are a series of posters and other images that have been mounted on walls in the school hallways. The materials define bullying and offer suggestions for preventing or diffusing it. 

Gaylor noted there’s also been an increased focus on helping kids become victors, rather than victims.

“We want to give them the confidence to take on problems themselves and, if not, reach out to an adult,” he said.

Students are encouraged to work problems out themselves through a “conflict corner.” Several kids have asked to use it, sitting on comfy chairs or beanbags while they hash out what happened.

“It’s been really helpful for kids,” Gaylor commented.

When that doesn’t work, bully forms can be picked up at locations around the school. They’re also available on Gaylor’s guidance website. For these reports, students are asked to detail the incident—who bullied them, what happened and where it happened—then return it to Gaylor or another adult at the school.

Gaylor said the forms were developed by one of his early student advisory groups, which provide input on school activities and the overall school environment. Other groups refined it in the last few years.

When just one report came in this school year, Gaylor said he asked the first semester advisory group for their opinion.

“The advisory group does a lot to help with bullying,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of progress. So much so that I was worried, ‘Are people not reporting it? Am I dreaming, or is this really the way things are going?’”

Gaylor said the group assured him the bullying prevention efforts were going well, but shared that some areas could be improved.

There were problems at recess, he said, so the advisory group suggested that adults spread out, in order to limit issues. The classes also met to discuss their concerns and developed rules for the games the kids often play.

“We’re going to publish a little booklet of game rules that recess teachers can refer to,” he said.

Efforts like this are just one way Gaylor hopes the school can continue to involve students in tackling important issues.

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