• Allan J. Mucerino

BULLYING PREVENTION REQUIRES STUDENT VOICES

Updated: Mar 22, 2018

The article below is from my weekly newsletter that I publish for my school district.  

As part of National Bullying Month, the District is hosting a Leadership Summit for students from 10:15 am-1:15 pm on October 18 at the Teen Center in Duarte. The collaboration includes the student leadership teams from Duarte High School, Northview Village, and CSArts. With the stated objective of helping everyone understand each other’s perspective, we expect to generate solutions and ideas to strengthen our ongoing effort to bring the three schools together given their interconnectedness and close proximity to each other. 


In last week’s column, I described how our Duarte High School student leaders have already begun their campaign to unite our school and community by gathering students for a pledge event during lunch. Dean of Students and Associated Student Body Advisor Jennifer Garcia, herself a graduate of DHS, is facilitating the student-led campaign against bullying and is committed to build a permanent bond between the schools.


Everyone is committed to keep kids safe and end bullying behavior.

Bullying is an affront to the common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination.

Those of you who have heard me speak at Board meetings or in other forums, or who read my blog know that my youngest son has Tourette’s Syndrome and didn’t want to go to school due to the unwanted attention his tics and guttural sound-making garnered. I’ve spoken about how lucky he is to have parents who could reteach him everything he didn’t learn in school because he was distracted fighting the urge to tic and make noises, both of which he had no control over. The merciless teasing led us to change schools once in the middle grades. He became Validictorian six years later and is currently a senior at Chapman University where the real world awaits him in about 6 months. But his Tourette’s continues to be the biggest battle he will face.

Bullying is personal to me. It is to everyone who has experienced it first-hand either as a victim or the parent or friend of a victim.

It is so pervasive that it is estimated that the vast majority of young people experience harassment of some kind in schools. Bullying exists in the adult world as well but of course most adults are better equipped to handle it. 


Bullying is not only a problem for education policy to address. It is also a health and welfare issue relevant to child protection. Given that, the City is engaged with us too, thanks to the support of Duarte Deputy City Manager and Public Information Officer, Karen Herrera, also a member of the CSArts-SGV Board of Education.


School bullying takes many forms. Much of the research literature offering a precise definition of bullying emphasizes that bullying is intentional, repeated and involves an imbalance of power. These include discriminatory bullying against minority groups, homophobic bullying and bullying against students with special needs or any student who seem vulnerable for his or her peers. Furthermore, a distinction is made so that bullying is not simply treated as aggression or violence. This is not to equate bullying with violence or aggression. Not all violence or aggression is bullying and not all bullying includes violence or aggression. Nevertheless, these distinctions are important as we explore remedies at our upcoming Summit as well as daily in our ongoing effort to provide a bully-free environment. 


It’s a complex problem to solve. It requires a comprehensive, multidimensional approach. The lack of a systematic approach to address school bullying is an issue of concern for many school districts.  Our implementation of Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (also described in last week’s column) is comprehensive, multidimensional, and systematic. It includes effective program elements associated with decreases in bullying behavior, including a strong foundation of appropriate classroom management and rules. In addition, it includes anti-bullying policy teacher training, improved playground supervision, bullying discussions, and disciplinary methods that are not reducible to just punitive or zero tolerance approaches. In addition, it includes support for parents, a critical and often overlooked element of an effective systematic approach. In my experiences, while parents overwhelmingly support nurturance practices that protect students from harm, many are somewhat more ambivalent toward those that allow children to develop and assert agency. 


Fortunately, PBIS and restorative practices are a major force in the growing push to acknowledge and understand youth voice and rights. While rights to nurturance concern policies and practices that aim to keep youth safe and free from harm, mistreatment, and harassment, rights to self-determination in the school context involve those policies and practices that allow young people to be in some measure of control over their own lives.  We aim to help our students gradually and systematically (PBIS is K-12) develop into agentic, adult decision makers by providing opportunities for the development of appropriate levels of autonomy and responsibility afforded to young people.


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