Andrews Elementary makes it clear that bullying in school is history

Fourth-grader Logan Sibert cuts out a “hand” he decorated in art class at Andrews Elementary School as part of the school’s Bully Prevention Day on Monday, Oct. 5. The hands made by students, which were added together in a mural that urged students to “Take a stand … lend a hand.”
Fourth-grader Logan Sibert cuts out a “hand” he decorated in art class at Andrews Elementary School as part of the school’s Bully Prevention Day on Monday, Oct. 5. The hands made by students, which were added together in a mural that urged students to “Take a stand … lend a hand.” Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Originally published Oct. 12, 2015.

Back in the day, parents and educators were often heard using the phrase, “boys will be boys” — or “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

That day is over for those involved in bullying at school.

At Andrews Elementary School, the message has been driven home to every student in each grade to “Take a Stand … Lend a Hand” when they see a fellow classmate being bullied.

The school recently spent a week focused on the topic, with games, crafts, interactive role-playing skits, a community mural and even a parade on Monday, Oct. 5, to show their solidarity.

“Bullying is an important topic, so we wanted the kids to be educated and we also wanted them to feel empowered, so that if they were in a situation they needed the knowledge of what to do or how to help others,” says Mindy Reust, the Andrews school counselor. “We’ve worked a lot on teaching kids to, instead of just being a bystander, or someone who stands by and watches the bullying happen, that they be an upstander and they stand up for others.”

Principal Amy Rudolf says it is imperative that children be taught what to do and say in such situations.

“I think as a district, we have worked on life skills and the learning guidelines. I think the fact that there’s consistency there, from kindergarten all the way up through 12th grade, makes a difference … I do think we’re much more aware of how the relationship piece and teaching kids about it plays into it — teaching the kids about respect.”

Indiana law defines “bullying” as “overt, unwanted, repeated acts or gestures, including verbal or written communications or images transmitted in any manner (including digitally or electronically), physical acts committed, aggression, or any other behaviors, that are committed by a student or group of students against another student with the intent to harass, ridicule, humiliate, intimidate, or harm the other targeted student and create for the targeted student an objectively hostile school environment.

“Bullying fosters a climate of fear and disrespect that can seriously impair the physical and psychological health of its victims and create conditions that negatively affect learning. Bullying includes unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.

“Bullying can occur anywhere (in-school or outside of school) and at any time — both during and after school hours. Bullying can include physical bullying, verbal bullying, social/relational bullying, and electronic/written communication.”

U.S. Department of Education statistics show that 22 percent of students ages 12 to 18 were bullied at school during the 2012-2013 school year. Middle schoolers are more likely to report being made fun of, called names or insulted; pushed, shoved, tripped or spit on; forced to do things they don’t want to do; or excluded. Kids who are bullied are more likely to develop depression, anxiety, panic disorder, low self-esteem, and psychosomatic problems such as headaches, stomachaches, sleep problems and poor appetite. Victims also tend to avoid going to school and exhibit lower academic achievement. Oftentimes they go on to develop problems with alcohol and other drugs.

Rudolf says schools are now required by the state to provide bullying training to staff members each year, as well as to all students. The Indiana Department of Education has placed a priority on its website about the topic, and detailed information about school policy, prevention, discipline, follow-up services and legal considerations.

Reust says three things must be present in order for school officials to determine a bullying incident:

• Repeated actions.

• The actions are committed on purpose.

• The actions are such that one person is trying to show they have more power over another.

“We talk about physical bullying, like pushing, tripping, hitting, shoving,” she says. “And we talk about emotional, or social bullying, where kids leave others out or do things to hurt their feelings, like make fun of the way they look.”

But Reust adds that bullying is different today than when she was in school. It can occur anytime, day or night, with the advent of “cyber bullying” — using the Internet and social media to target victims.

“It can happen 24/7, and that’s the scary part with that; it’s not bound to those few hours when we’re in school or the short amount of time on the bus or the playground. They (kids) just have more access to one another,” she explains. “Just in the last few years we’ve had to change the way we teach bully prevention, because now we have to address bully prevention through the social media aspect, and the electronic email, texting, those kinds of things.”

Students who are victims of bullying are encouraged to stand up for themselves, in an assertive — not aggressive — kind of way, Reust says. Encouraging their classmates to “be an upstander” also helps diffuse bullying situations. But Rudolf says there are also consequences for those who bully others.

“For our kids in elementary, we have a conversation with their parents,” she says. “Parents will think, ‘Oh, it’s no big deal,’ and not really be aware of the things that are happening, and the harm that it can do to kids.”

Parents receive information about the bully prevention efforts taught to their children through the school’s monthly newsletter, making them aware of the issue and hopefully educating them on how to provide support at home.

During the events held at Andrews Elementary School, the message sank in to students — bullying is not acceptable, not just to teachers and those in authority, but it’s also unacceptable to their peers. Students signed pledge cards vowing to “take a stand and lend a hand” if they see someone being bullied. Reust says kids can make it a “team effort” to stop wrong actions by standing together and putting a stop to them.

Fifth-grader Landon Moreland, 10, says he’s learned a lot from the lessons.

“We learned not to do it, to tell someone if it happens,” he said. “We learned to stay away from bullies and walk away.”

Gracie Fields, 10, a fourth grade student, says she learned that if she sees someone being bullied she should try to help stop it.

“If there was one here and I saw it happening, I would tell Mrs. Reust,” she says. “Stand up for what’s right, even if it means you’re standing up to your friend getting in trouble.”

There are more resources for both parents, educators and others to help them better understand and respond to bullying. Victory Noll Center will present “Raising Children to Stand Tall in the Face of Bullying” on Friday, Oct. 23, from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The keynote speaker will be Danielle Green, whose daughter committed suicide at the age of 14 as the result of being bullied. Green will talk about the impact bullying has to its victims and will explore steps on how to respond to and prevent bullying.

The community is welcome to attend the program. Registration deadline is Oct. 16. A fee is charged for the seminar; payment assistance is available. For more information call Victory Noll at 356-0628, extension 174 or email victorynollcenter@olvm.org.

More information about bullying and Indiana’s laws can be found on the Indiana Department of Education website, www.doe.in.gov/ under the heading, “Trending Now.” Additional information can also be accessed at www.stopbullying.gov.