West Holmes being proactive about bullying

By KELLEY MOHR Staff Writer Published:

The Board of Education received an update on the anti-bullying campaign being implemented at the middle school.

"Two meetings ago, (Principal Jeff Woods) filled you in on our approach and attack on the buzz word "bullying" -- what's going on, identifying (what is bullying) and what we can do about it," said Vice Principal Rick Mullins at Monday's (Oct. 15) board meeting. "I want to follow-up with what's going on in the meantime in the first couple months at school."

With bullying becoming a hot issue nationwide, Woods and Mullins teamed up with staff members at the end of the 2011-2012 school year to create an anti-bullying policy at the middle school: The West Holmes Middle School 2012-2013 Anti-Bullying Contract.

The anti-bullying contract went home to every student in a packet on schedule pick-up day to be signed and returned before the beginning of the school year.

"We're focusing on bullying, identifying that behavior and communicating to the kids what it is," said Mullins, noting this goes for students, parents, administration and staff. "Part of the time we get caught up on what is and what is not bullying, but either way if we have unacceptable behavior we want to knock it out."

According to the contract, the definition of bullying is "when someone repeatedly says or does mean or hurtful things to another person who has a hard time defending him or herself."

Students were asked to sign an anti-bullying contract that begins, "We the students of West Holmes Middle School agree to join together to stop bullying at our school. We believe that everybody should enjoy our school equally, and feel safe, secure and accepted regardless of color, race, gender, popularity, athletic ability, intelligence, religion and nationality."

In addition to traditional bullying, cyber bullying is becoming more common as students gain access to cell phones, email and the Internet.

"Cyber bullying is going to be one of our focuses with these kids because it seems like that is a niche that has really become an aggressive behavior," said Mullins. Students who are bullied, or who witness an instance of bullying, are directed to report it to a teacher, counselor, principal or other staff member.

To help students understand this bullying contract, guidance counselor Nic Fioritto has been meeting with sixth grade health classes and the school is working with Greg Morrison from the Holmes County Prevention Coalition.

The contract specifies what, exactly, bullying is: Repeated pushing, shoving, hitting and spitting. Bullying can be cyber -- through text, email, Facebook or any other form of technology -- or can involve name calling, picking on, making fun of, laughing at and excluding someone.

Now that the contracts are signed and returned, the school's job is to help students understand it, using an offensive approach for those who may bully, teaching better self image, self improvement, making better decisions, said Mullins. On the defensive side, for those who may be targets, students are taught social skills, group pressures, resolving conflict and assertiveness, he added.

"We're finding that to be a powerful thing with the kids is being assertive on the receiving end of bullying," said Mullins. For example, "saying if you don't like that behavior and you want that type of thing to stop."

While realistically some bullying may occur, the point is to be proactive, said Mullins.

"We're realistic in that we're not going to eliminate it, but we're going to approach it and have a hard line on it," he said. "So far this year our numbers have been down compared to in the past... We're attacking this, making sure that (students) are toeing the line and going through this process correctly."

Reporter Kelley Mohr can be reached at 330-674-5676 or kmohr@the-daily-record.com.

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