Bullying complaints at Miami are down sharply, more than 60%, over the past three years, thanks to a combination of upfront discussion, counseling, and strict consequences. Key to attacking student bullying was arriving at a clear definition, and the Miami Governing Board approved a three-part description of what constitutes bullying:
A clear power imbalance between students. This can be the classic big kid taking lunch money off a smaller student but is equally likely to be verbal – comments in the hallways or nasty things posted online.
Takes place over an extended period of time. A single rude comment or act of callousness doesn’t constitute bullying. Even a shove or punch, while against the rules and punishable for its own sake, likely isn’t bullying. Bullies like to draw it out, thriving not just on the harm they cause, but on the fact that their victims are constantly afraid of the next encounter, the next verbal or physical blow, the next public embarrassment.
Causes real harm. This may be physical, psychological, emotional, or social distress, but all forms of harm imposed by others are unacceptable. It’s important to note that life includes some unpleasant encounters, whether you’re in school or long out of it. Not being invited to a party or being excluded on the playground may hurt, but it’s not necessarily bullying.
District Policy strictly prohibits bullying in all forms and establishes procedures for students and families to report violations. Staff review the bullying policies at the beginning of each year and are alert to incipient signs that kids are being picked on.
We take this zero-tolerance approach because bullying is always wrong and potentially dangerous:
- All students and staff are entitled to enjoy school without fear of physical, verbal or emotional abuse.
- Victims of bullying may withdraw from social and academic activities, develop anxiety or depression, and even consider harming themselves. They may even decide to harm their bullies, at school or elsewhere.
- Bullying is also dangerous for the bullies, and some studies indicate an increased risk of antisocial personality disorders, including a heightened risk of committing domestic violence. Early intervention may turn a young bully’s life around and save future potential victims.
- Bullies often mimic behaviors they see around them, sometimes at school but often at home. Intervening quickly and decisively can help students learn and adopt acceptable conduct toward others.
Bullying complaints at Miami tend to come in three distinct situations.
The biggest wave, more than half of each year’s complaints, comes in the fall and invariably involves junior-high girls. When the bullying is non-violent, our first response is to educate all involved parties on what bullying is, why it’s unacceptable, and how to avoid being either a bully or a victim. We are often able to facilitate group conversations that move girls past the unacceptable behaviors. Our goal, after all, is to correct behavior, and the combined efforts of teachers, administrators, counselors and parents solve the problems most of the time.
But that approach is not perfect. Students who employ violence or continue to bully after the initial interventions are dealt with under the general disciplinary matrix. While detention or a brief suspension usually gets the offender’s attention, we occasionally expel an incorrigible bully.
A second and much smaller wave of complaints sometimes hits in February or March and involves a role reversal. Students who were victims in the fall have found their footing – maybe they’ve grown a bit taller, been successful in sports, or found new social status – and use that new position to bully their former tormentors. Counseling sessions and group conversations tend to solve this quickly, as the new victims understand how they made others feel earlier in the year, and the new bullies are appalled by the impact of their behavior.
The truly scary bullying is the bullying that no one sees. Cyberbullying – the verbal, psychological, and emotional abuse of someone over social media, email, and online chat – takes bullying to a whole new level. Most of us experienced bullying when we were in school. If we’re honest, most of us were both victims and occasionally the bullies. But the bullying stopped when we went home and was often forgotten the next day – forgotten by the bullies, not by the victims.
Cyberbullying takes place 24/7. Nasty comments may be the last thing a child sees before bed and the first thing they see when they wake up. The pressure never relents and no one sees that a child needs help. Sometimes victims see no alternative but to engage in bullying themselves, escalating the situation and obscuring their own innocence.
It takes the entire community to stop bullying.
Our schools will continue to take every step we can to reduce bullying, but children need more help than we can give during the school day. Protecting kids – from bullies and from becoming bullies – requires help from families and the community.
Families are the first line of defense against bullying and are perfectly placed to perform several important services:
- Monitor your kids. Children and teenagers are often normally on emotional rollercoasters, but any prolonged distress should be explored. Listen to your kids. It’s so easy as a loving parent to jump on a problem, but sometimes kids need a little time to get around to the real story.
- Help kids understand what is “normal” and what is bullying. It’s terrible when your child is excluded from a birthday party or playdate, but it’s not bullying.
- Keep an eye on the social media. We strongly recommend that parents keep a list of their kids’ computer, phone and social media logins. It helps when a password is forgotten, certainly, but there’s a more significant impact. Children who know their parents can see their online posts usually behave more carefully and considerately.
- Report problems. Let us know what’s going on even if it occurs outside school. If you want help, call one of the numbers listed on this page. If there’s real danger or abuse happens over the weekend, call the police.
But it takes a village and everyone in the community can help:
- Model the right behavior. When you see someone bullying the clerk at the store or a car being driven too aggressively, point it out to the kids in your care. Why is that lady taking out her anger on the person who’s bagging her groceries? Why is that driver putting others in danger just to save a few seconds off his trip? And then show them the correct behavior. A child who knows how people ought to behave will know when they are being mistreated.
- See something, say something. If you know a child is being bullied, let someone know. The kids’ parents if you know them. Call the school. Call the police.
Places to call
PreK-2nd grade: Bejarano Elementary, 928-425-3271
3rd-5th grades: Lee Kornegay Middle School, 928-425-3271
6th-12th grades: Miami Junior-Senior High School, 928-425-3271
MustStopBullying.org (Arizona Dept. of Health Services)
Gila County Sheriff, 928-402-4373
Miami Police, 928-473-2466
Globe Police, 928-425-5751
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