Bullying task force hears from students, counselors

High school students on Wednesday said a good way to reduce bullying in schools is for educators to make students feel worthwhile.

The seven students from Lawrence High School and Free State High School told the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Bullying Prevention that they frequently see bullying behavior at their schools and that it often goes unaddressed by teachers and administrators.

And they said the bullying behavior is probably less physical than in past generations, but more socially-oriented with bullies manipulating and insulting students, especially on social media.

When asked what educators can do to help stop bullying, the students said school officials should try to help build up every student’s self worth because bullies and those who are bullied often suffer from depression or low self-esteem. “The bullies can be victims too,” one student said.

Task Force Co-Chair Rick Ginsberg said the students’ remarks were similar to ones he heard from his son, a recent high school graduate. Ginsberg, who is dean of the University of Kansas School of Education, said the role of educators is crucial to stop bullying. He said when he asks people who their favorite teacher was and why, the responses always focus on the caring and inspiring nature of the teacher; not on academics.

The task force is charged with providing recommendations on reducing bullying to the State Board of Education by the end of the year. The group meets again on Dec. 2 to put together its final report.

Earlier Wednesday, the task force heard about anti-bullying efforts from two extremely different school districts — Wichita USD 259, which is the largest district in the state with 50,000 students, and Beloit Junior and Senior High School, which has less than 340 students.

Stephanie Litton and Brennan Eilert, from Beloit, said their school focuses as much on social-emotional skills as any academic subject. The school emphasizes character education and giving students responsibilities in major school operating decisions. They said their student disciplinary problems have drastically decreased and the positive culture of the school is palpable.

Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson, who attended the task force meeting, said Beloit has incorporated strong social-emotional training while also excelling academically. “They’re doing well in every measure,” he said.

Stephanie Anderson, who is in charge of counseling services at Wichita USD 259, said the district is embarking on a number of initiatives, including the use of restorative justice, reducing chronic absenteeism and working with parents.

“Wichita is working really, really hard to help foster that relationship-building between staff and students, students to students and staff to parents,” she said.

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