Our opinion: Make renewed effort to stop bullying this school year

Published 8:15 am Friday, August 9, 2019

We’re just over the halfway point of the Mower County Fair, which means a full-fledged school year is just around the corner.

Monday, fall teams will begin official practices and then once Labor Day passes — school’s in session.

An upcoming school year can — and should — be filled with optimism. A chance to grow, to learn and to become better.

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But for many, a new school year can also mean stress and anxiety. Fear of not being good enough, not living up to other people’s expectations or simply being different either in how a student looks or their lifestyle in general.

According to a 2016 National Center for Education Statistics report, more than one out of every five students report being bullied. Bullying can include several different methods including, but certainly not limited to, name calling, threats and cyberbullying.

In 2016, the National Center for Education also reported that of those students who reported being bullied, 13 percent were made fun of, called names or insulted. Twelve percent were the subject of rumors; five percent were pushed, shoved, tripped or spit on and five percent were excluded from activities on purpose.

Over the years, school districts have taken a more intensive look at bullying and how it can stem the growing problem.

It’s a tricky problem to maneuver around, however. With the explosion of social media, the ability to bully is made that much easier because it can be done anonymously. Rumors and lies, unflattering pictures and taunts can easily be floated, and once it’s there, it’s always there.

Austin School District, like so many other school districts, has taken a direct approach. According to Sumner Elementary principal and member of the Student Behavior Working Group in Austin Sheila Berger, a core part of helping to affect change in bullying is perhaps the simplest part — listening.

“The No. 1 way I believe to prevent bullying is building strong relationships,” Berger said. “Getting to know kids and families and then modeling (behavior) and practicing with kids.”

That’s easier said than done. Look at the headlines. And in a modern world of seemingly endless conflict, adults aren’t always the best source of modeling behavior.

Schools like Sumner Elementary are taking active steps to confront bullying, including using words to get through issues.

“For starters we talk with the students who have a conflict about how you solve it respectively,” Berger said.

Bullying is only part of this, however, as some students simply have problems fitting in. They may sit by themselves at lunch or play by themselves on the playground. The reasons are often varying and many, ranging from a whole host of issues.

One way to fight this, in fact, perhaps the best way, is inclusion.

“We’re just very watchful and mindful and we look out for those people,” Berger said. “We have a system that is more community oriented.”

In short — nobody sits alone.

There’s a lot we can do to ensure that nobody is alone and that kids can go through a school year free from bullying.

Reach out and say something if you are bullied or witness bullying. Peer pressure may make this easier said than done, but to not do it at all risks further isolation and perhaps worse.

As a parent, be an active participant. “To listen to their child and then speak to the teacher without any assumptions,” Berger said.

Reach out to those that are sitting alone.

Be a friend.

Going to school should be about being as prepared as possible for the future, not fearing it. Bullying never solves a problem, it only creates new ones, and if a child is dealing with bullying, lack of self-esteem, stress and anxiety, it prevents the building of a strong and confident member of society.

We’re all different in our own way. It’s part of what makes us all unique. Making fun of somebody who is different is hurtful and above all else harmful.

Help make this your student’s year the best school year ever. Talk to them about bullying, being bullied, the effects of bullying and how not to be part of the problem.

Instead, it’s time to fix the problem.