Thirteen-year-old Alexis is a talented singer who reads at an 11th grade level. She says she wants to go to college and then law school, so she can become a lawyer and “defend people who can’t defend themselves.” Her mother, Samantha, makes sure she frequently tells her daughter that she is both smart and beautiful. But Alexis, a seventh-grader at Buford Middle School, pays more attention to what others say about her. And lots of it is ugly.
Yet a March 12 Time magazine article claimed “as painful as bullying can be, and as horrible as its victims’ scars may be, research suggests that the talk of an epidemic may be exaggerated.” Who’s right? Do we all need to take a deep breath, calm down, and just let “kids be kids”? Or are we really in the thick of a bullying epidemic?
To help figure this out, Albemarle-Charlottesville Safe Schools/Healthy Students administers an annual Peer Support Survey, developed by Youth-Nex’s Dewey Cornell, which allows students in grades four through 12 to anonymously write down the names of those who are possible bullying victims. Counselors talk to children whose names appear multiple times, in hopes of determining if intervention or assistance is needed. By conducting this survey in the fall, “the schools and SS/HS hope to identify students in any potentially harmful situations before [too much of] the school year has gone by,” said Lois Wallenhorst, project coordinator for Safe Schools.
The survey helps students understand the importance of coming forward and assist them in overcoming embarrassment they may have about speaking up. “Students more than anyone else know who is being bullied at school, said Cornell. “The survey gives school counselors a much-needed starting point for anti-bullying efforts.”
Cornell adds: “Bullying is not a new problem and it is not increasing, but we are becoming more aware of it and seeing its consequences in the worst cases. There is clear evidence that bullying has harmful effects on students, and that schools with lower levels of bullying are healthier climates where students are more engaged and have higher academic performance. We also need to be concerned that students who engage in repeated bullying are at risk for more serious delinquent and antisocial behavior as they grow older.”
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