SYCAMORE – Best friends, a student with a disability, a member of the marching band, a varsity athlete.
Every and any student can be a victim of bullying, which makes raising awareness and teaching students how to react a priority, said Maryellen Spicer, a counselor with Sycamore High School.
Spicer, who has worked with Sycamore High School for the past five years, said unlike 20 or 30 years ago when bullying happened in the hallways and students could at least get a reprieve at home, there is a constant attack on children and that can quickly build up if it is not addressed.
She said the recent national conversations are not an overreaction, but a tool that has helped students be more comfortable in coming out and saying they have been bullied and need help.
“People don’t realize that a little teasing can have a big impact,” Spicer said. “I don’t think you can ever be too quick to address it.”
Creating an atmosphere where students feel comfortable talking to counselors or teachers about being bullied is the first step in changing the bullying trend, she said.
Schools such as Genoa-Kingston High School even have online bullying report forms students can fill out anonymously when they see or are involved in an incident.
Tackling the issue at the elementary level can be more difficult, said West Elementary Principal Brad Barnhardt, because students sometimes cannot see the difference between bullying and joking.
To help students identify that behavior, Barnhardt introduced a “Tiers of Disrespect” pyramid this year that shows parents and students the difference in behaviors. The pyramid starts with annoying behavior, which can be getting too close, using sarcasm and interrupting. The second tier is mean behavior, which is an act to hurt a person either physically or verbally.
The third tier is bullying, which the pyramid describes as behavior that hurts someone repeatedly, is often one-sided and involves getting others to join.
“There are instances where students at elementary level have no idea what they are doing is bullying,” Barnhardt said. “This help turns on that light in their head that they have crossed the line. It doesn’t matter where you live, bullying happens, so we need to put things in place to teach kids what is acceptable and what is not.”