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Bullies are outnumbered at John Burroughs

By Aaron Blevins, 12/06/2012

School assembly offers anti-bullying message

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It’s no secret that bullying can have very negative implications for young people, which is why John Burroughs Middle School is trying to confront the complicated issue head-on.

Madison Milton sang Beyoncé’s song “Halo” to express the need for students to treat each other with respect. (photo by Aaron Blevins)

The middle school held an assembly last Thursday to do just that, offering students its anti-bullying message through song, dance and verbal accounts from law enforcement, administrators and their peers.

“It can scar you, and that’s why everyone is taking a stand,” principal Steve Martinez said.

He used a blank sheet of paper to illustrate the affects of bullying. Crumpling the sheet of paper, Martinez said verbal harassment and the “online/social media stuff” can have lasting ramifications — like creases in the sheet of paper — even if the bullies apologize.

He said the anti-bullying effort requires collaboration between the school, parents, students and community to say, “enough is enough.” Martinez referenced the school’s “bullying button” on its website, which can be used to anonymously report acts of bullying to administrators.

“We are getting a lot of results with it, and it’s helping. It means more work for us, but we want that work,” he said, adding that the site’s message to bullies is simple: “We’re going to find out about it.”

Lt. Bryan Wong, of LAPD’s Wilshire Division, addressed the students, saying that he has seen both sides of the bullying issue in his home. One of his children, who is autistic, has been ostracized and bullied, while another one of his sons was part of a core group of students who supported bullies.

“It broke my heart, but it goes full circle,” Wong said.

He said the effects of bullying can persist into adulthood, for both the victim and the bully. Wong said bullying occurs with adults in workplace, where the department sometimes has to get involved.

“You owe it to yourselves … to try to modify this behavior,” he added. “It’s going to reap rewards in the end.”

Prior to the assembly, Wong said the schools are the best arena for bullying discussions, as 90 percent of all bullying issues center around where children and young people have contact.

Officers frequently speak to several schools and districts about the problem, and while some have different methods or areas of emphasis, the message is the same, he said. Therefore, officers work to supplement the efforts of the various schools.

“There is no key component,” Wong said. “They’re all important.”

He said the police typically do not get involved with individual bullying issues at the school level. When the problems spill over into the community, officers get involved, but the division does what it can to prevent such occurrences.

“Prevention is the key to everything,” Wong said. “If you can prevent it, you can really control the volume of incidents, the seriousness of the incidents. If left unabated, it would be unmanageable at some level.”

Although bullying has common themes and results, the issue is complicated, he said. There have been studies conducted to learn more about bullying, but there’s still a lot of room for research, Wong said.

“There are various degrees to bullying,” he added. “That’s why talking about bullying is like looking at mist. You know when it’s there, but you can’t put your arms around it. To some people, it’s being teased. To some people, it’s being attacked. …It encompasses all of that.”

That being the case, it can be difficult to explain the whole issue to young people. Therefore, Wong tries to break down specific situations and see if the students know what to do. He said step one is making sure they’re not part of the problem.

“If we can keep the mob mentality — the wolf pack mentality — down, that’s going to help a lot,” Wong added.

Students were treated to a skit created by students and staff, and two students — Madison Milton and Nicole Nasic — sang Beyoncé’s song “Halo” to express the need for all of the students to be angels to other people.

One particularly dramatic video showed the extremes to which students will go — such as suicide — as a result of harassment by their peers. The school also created a public service announcement video, which featured a cameo by City Councilman Tom LaBonge, 4th District.

“Nobody deserves to be picked on,” he said in the video. “Everybody deserves to be loved and encouraged.”

It also displayed nationwide bullying facts: a child is bullied on a playground every seven minutes, 60 percent of middle school students have been bullied and approximately 160,000 students stay home from school each day due to bullying.

In the PSA, students chanted, “Say out loud, ‘No bullying allowed!’” and “Be cool at our school. It’s bully-free and so are we!” Students also offered testimonials of bullying incidents that have affected them.

“I want you to know that understanding bullying is a skill that you will need your entire life,” said nonprofit counselor Ande Richards, who created the video. She mentioned an incident over the summer in which she was bullied through Facebook by a coworker on a movie set. “I realized many young people need to discuss bullying and tangible ways to deal with it.”

Students also received information about the mediation process from representatives of the Center for Civic Mediation, which works with area schools to settle differences between students or groups of students.

The anti-bullying effort at Burroughs will continue throughout the year, Martinez said. All students and staff were wearing anti-bullying T-shirts, and administrators plan to have the school don the shirts once a month.

Martinez said the school will have another assembly later in the year, and another video will be put together to create a pledge to fight bullying. He said the school is doing everything it can to reduce incidents.

“We all need to look out for each other, and we need to stop this bullying,” Martinez added. “Ultimately, it comes down to you and that act of bravery.”

 

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