Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
October is National Bullying Prevention Month, but at Jacksonville public schools, the district is focused on awareness throughout the year as it enforces programs for students and faculty that meet state and federal standards.
Dr. Leslie Brinkman George, district director of special and alternative education, said that “making sure there is an awareness is very important to us.”
“We've always addressed (harassment and bullying), but it was done differently at each of the campuses, so this year we wanted to make sure we were covering (policy uniformly) throughout the district. We wanted to make it comprehensive and consistent,” she said.
According to the Texas Education Agency website, “bullying is an aggressive behavior that involves unwanted, negative actions” directed toward someone, involving “an imbalance of power or strength.”
With the advent of social media, harassment is taken into cyber-space when “information and communication technologies (are used) to support deliberate, repeated and hostile behavior by an individual or group that is intended to harm others,” the website states.
The Texas Education Code requires under the Student Code of Conduct Chapter 37, that every district has a local policy in place that prohibits bullying and harassment and ensures that district employees enforce policy. The code also requires that districts provide grade-level appropriate methods and options for managing students in the classroom and on school grounds, disciplining students and preventing/intervening in student discipline problems including bullying, harassment and making hit lists, according to the TEA website.
In a separate section of the code, parents are given the opportunity to transfer their child to another campus if it has been determined that the child has been bullied.
Anti-bullying programs are important to the educational system because “we want the kids to feel comfortable coming to school,” Dr. George said. “We don't want them to begin isolating themselves, but we want them to feel safe at school. Because when they're comfortable, they're then able to learn more.
At East Side Elementary, Principal Holly Cargill said the school's counselor presents anti-bullying lessons to every class.
“We also participate in a program called 'Bully Alert,' (which) is played over announcements at least two times a week. There are presented with social stories as well as steps to take to report the incident to adults,” Cargill said.
These announcements, she added, “have made students more aware of bullying behaviors, of ways to report bullying situations, as well as becoming a voice to speak for victims. It has increased their knowledge on the subject (and) we feel the program has enabled students to feel more free to report and discuss bullying issues with adults.”
Across town, at Nichols Intermediate School, “students have taken on the challenge of making their school bully-free” in observance of Bullying Prevention Month, said counselor Carrie Mauldin.
The school has adopted a program that implements positive character traits into students' lives through lessons and talks.
“Each six weeks we learn about a positive character trait,” which has helped children pick up on negative behaviors that could hurt others, she said. “This year the students are encouraged to identify positive character traits in their peers throughout the day. It's early in the year now, but with the progress students have made so far, identifying good character traits in one another and helping each other, we anticipate bullying to decrease.”
The upshot is, through the programs implemented at the different campuses, students are “more aware of what to do, of what not to do, who to report to and where to go for help,” Dr. George said.
On Wednesday, Weldon Floyd, a regional information technology specialist from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, will talk to middle school students about cyber-bullying as part of the school's observation of National Unity Day.