Courtney Connors could see that the start of the school year was not going well for a certain seventh-grader.
The boy had been picked on and kicked by kids on a bus that Connors took to and from East Valley High School. One day this September, Connors stood up at the front of the bus and told her fellow EVHS students that the bullying must stop.
“I basically said, ‘We can be better than this – If this is what we’re going to grow up like, we should be scared.’”
The harassment stopped after Connors’ appeal for change. The incident was later highlighted during a special assembly at the high school where Rob Keefe, head coach of the Arena Football League champion Spokane Shock, recognized Connors for her efforts.
The episode served as the basis for Connors’ senior project focusing on an increased awareness of bullying and its effects. Beginning in late November, she facilitated a class on the subject to students at the district’s two middle schools.
“We talked about standing up to bullying and how they need to help their peers,” Connors said.
Throughout November, a separate anti-bullying program at East Valley Middle School emphasized the importance of calling out situations that involve a student being mistreated, from physical abuse to verbal hostility to cyber bullying through e-mails, texting and social networking sites.
“There were discussions about what bullying is and what to do about it,” said Lorri Reilly, dean of students at EVMS.
One recommendation involves the person being taunted avoiding direct confrontation with the bully or bullies. Instead students are advised to report the problem to a teacher or counselor.
During November, one student did just that.
“He brought the situation to teachers,” Reilly said. “The student who had been responsible for the bullying took responsibility and apologized.”
The month-long agenda included a poster contest, weekly activities – including lunches with a theme of “Tune Out the Turkey Talk” which emphasized awareness of verbal bullying – and mention of the program in the school newsletter.
So far, the efforts have made a difference. Reprimands involving negative behavior at EVMS – handed out for everything from disruptive language to fighting – are down nearly 50 percent from this time last year. The school has yet to field a hearing for a student suspension.
At an informational presentation sponsored by the district in May, Cari Roderick, EVSD informational technology specialist, said 21 percent of East Valley middle school students had been impacted by cyberbullying – typically consisting of disparaging remarks through email or texts – based on a survey from November 2009.
In dealing with cyberbullying, students are encouraged to report the incident, save the messages as evidence, block the person sending the messages or create a new account.
EVSD Superintendent John Glenewinkel said the focus on anti-bullying continues to be a priority throughout the district.
“It’s important that we address the safety of kids,” he said. “Students need to feel that they belong, that they’re valued.”
Glenewinkel added that bullying is “a major factor” in a high school drop-out rate that now hovers around 30 percent in Spokane County. Talking about the repercussions of bullying remains a key, Glenewinkel said.
“Not only are we trying to make sure there is awareness of where and when these situations can occur, we’re asking students to reflect on their behavior and how it’s intimidating or disrespectful,” he said. “I think the greatest thing is there is a concerted effort to maintain respect for all students.”