Hoping to reduce bullying on the middle school campus, administrators recently held a second assembly to promote respect for others.
Students face daunting challenges in middle school, including changes in their bodies, a different schedule and new classmates — which helps make middle school ground zero when it comes to bullying.
Ask an adult which stage of their schooling they would not wish to repeat and they unequivocally say “middle school!” said Rim Country Middle School guidance counselor Byron Quinlan.
“It’s a developmental stage in life when kids define their identity and find their comfort zone,” he said.
Add to the mix social media such as Facebook, MySpace, texting, cell phones and instant access to the Internet and the combination becomes a traumatic blend of bullying, substance abuse and even violence, said Quinlan.
National surveys suggest that half of middle school students face some form of bullying or harassment every month, with about 15 percent suffering at least weekly incidents. Official reports are generally much lower than surveys suggest because so many students don’t report incidents.
Bullying peaks in middle school, according to the national surveys. Students who suffer bullying are much more likely to miss school, drop out, have lower grades and higher rates of depression, anxiety and social isolation.
To combat these forces, Quinlan joined with Yevette Harpe, vice-principal of RCMS to create the H.E.R.O. assemblies.
“H.E.R.O. stands for Helping Everyone Respect Others,” said Harpe.
Inspired by the Character Counts Foundation education program, the H.E.R.O. assembly hopes to create a safer middle school campus.
“Until the student body stands up and says ‘No! We don’t accept this behavior!’ we won’t see a difference,” said Harpe.
The assembly discusses how to treat people with respect, how to include others in activities and how to help peers when they become the victim of gossiping or bullying, said Harpe.
To empower students, the school has identified five big areas to report to administrators or teachers: drugs and tobacco use, alcohol, weapons, fights or physical harm, and bullying.
“We try to teach them the difference between tattling, snitching, or narking. We call it reporting instead,” said Harpe.
“We’d like them to consider instead of being a snitch, they define themselves as a responsible person,” said Quinlan.
Quinlan feels the assemblies give students permission to recognize and report the five harmful activities. After the Dec. 15 assembly, the school saw an uptick in reports. Exact results will not be possible until the spring statistics compilation, said Quinlan.
The Josephson Institute on Ethics, the parent organization for Character Counts, has conducted a study of ethics biannually since 1992. For the years 2009/10 the Institute queried 43,321 high school students on bullying.
The Institute’s survey showed that half (50 percent) of all high school students bullied someone, while almost half (47 percent) say they were bullied.
“If the saying ‘sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never harm me’ was ever true, it certainly is not so today,” said Michael Josephson, founder and president of the Institute in a press release. “Insults, name calling, relentless teasing, and malicious gossip often inflict deep and enduring pain. It’s not only the prevalence of bullying behavior and victimization that’s troublesome. The Internet has intensified the injury. What’s posted on the Internet is permanent, and it spreads like a virus — there is no refuge,” he added.
To help students, the school has a form students can fill out anonymously, said Quinlan.
“I want kids to talk to me. I think they understand the seriousness if something went wrong. It’s worse to live with that,” said Quinlan.