Of all the toxins found in schools, bullying may be the most poisonous. Only recently have the consequences of bullying been researched and understood. According to the DoSmething.org, approximately 160,000 teens skip school every day because of bullying, 1 out 10 students drop out of school because of repeated bullying and 9 out of 10 LGBT youth reported being verbally harassed at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.
I recently watched a small part of the 2011 documentary Bully. It’s a heartbreaking look at how the average American student cannot defend himself or herself against ridicule. Here is the heartbreaking story of Bailey O'Neill, an 11-year old from Pennsylvania.
Can anything be done? At Evergreen, we take the view that our first priority is establishing a class culture of collaboration, trust and respect. By having multi-age classrooms, standards of behavior and school rules are reinforced by students as well as adults. Bystanders are empowered to speak up. And because children work with materials at their own level, we minimize the competitive atmosphere present in other schools.
The foundation of confidence is laid in early childhood. These years are a critical to his or her development.
We frequently hear that Evergreen is a kinder, more welcoming environment than many other schools. My own experience bears this out; Evergreen is special place. Yet, we are far from perfect. Unkind words, exclusion, and even physical violence can happen. Our children are still developing their social and emotional control mechanisms. What is our anti-bullying strategy? Monitor appropriately. Intervene immediately. Don’t ignore minor incidents. Clarify expectations (“We do not ever …”). And finally, provide a safe space for reflecting after an incident. Most importantly, we check with a victim to make sure he or she feels secure.
By taking a proactive approach to bullying we can raise awareness and ensure that everyone can grow in an environment free of stress and harassment.
John DeMarchi is the Head of School at Evergreen School. Evergreen is a Montessori School in the Silver Spring, Kensington, Wheaton area of Montgomery County. Learn more about the school, admissions and summer programs at www.evergreenschool.com