Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

Local News

September 22, 2011

Bully busting

Locals schools are being proactive to deal with bullying

BARKER — The kids who packed Barker High School’s Herbert F. Ludwig auditorium sure know who Ron Bachman is.

The well-known national speaker visited Barker schools last week for his 2011-12 Walk This Way tour. Bachman visits schools and organizations across the country talking about overcoming adversity, accepting others and how hurtful bullying can be.

Bachman told the kids what most people don’t realize is that their negative words could be someone’s breaking point. You should think before you speak, Bachman told the students.

“You can affect me, that’s a lot of power,” Bachman said. “We need to control it and use it wisely.”

The Barker kids cheered Bachman, who, having his legs amputated as a young child, moves around with the help of a custom-designed scooter. As a result, Bachman has experienced strange looks and cruel remarks.

After the presentation, kids took some time to meet Bachman.  Some walked away with blue bracelets that proclaimed to “walk this way,” Bachman’s trademark saying, a reminder that showing tolerance for all is the right thing to do.

“His message is still powerful,” said Barker Principal Barbara Converso afterwards.

Bachman’s visit to Barker is an example of how some local schools are taking a proactive approach to bullying. The topic has tragically found its way back in the headlines.

Over the weekend, 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer took his own life. According to what he posted online, the Williamsville North student was a frequent victim of bullying at school.

“My heart just sank when I heard that,” said John Fisgus, principal at Royalton-Hartland Middle School.

Roy-Hart Middle has been one of the most proactive schools in regards to dealing with bullying. One of the major tools the school uses is Rachel’s Challenge.

Rachel’s Challenge is a character education program named in memory of Rachel Scott, the first person killed in the Columbine High School shootings on April 20, 1999. Rachel’s acts of kindness and compassion, coupled with the contents of her six diaries, are the foundation for the school program.

Fisgus said the school also brings in Camfel Productions, a multimedia program that encourages kids to make good decisions. Camfel presentations often show how personal improvement can lead to bigger changes socially within a school.

Roy-Hart is also holding an Internet safety presentation next month. The presentation show kids and parents the dangers of harassment and how to be safe on social media such as Facebook.

Fisgus said the school’s parents and teachers are very good at communicating with each other about kids and any possible issues. Students new to Roy-Hart are escorted to class and lunch by their new peers to help them make friends. They also get a free ice cream at lunch, courtesy of Mr. Fisgus.

“I think we’re all teachers of character education,” Fisgus said.

Earlier this month, Bachman made a visit to Roy-Hart Middle School as well. Other schools are taking the proactive approach in a variety of ways.

Last year, Newfane Middle School welcomed Rachel’s Challenge. The Newfane district also uses a school resource officer, a benefit that continues to pay dividends, district personnel have said.

In Starpoint, the district has a place on its website for anonymous bullying or incident reporting. The high school just started a program this year called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS. The program teaches positive behavior and encourages students to continue to show that behavior.

Lockport High School has been proactive as well, said Principal Frank Movalli. Aside from the school resource officer, the school administration is in the process of creating a computerized system of tracking bullying incidents.

Incidents are recorded on an Excel spreadsheet that is accessible to faculty members. If one name keeps coming up as the bully, or as the victim, the school can respond.

Teachers and staff do some small things to help, Movalli said, such as telling a student that derogatory language is not accessible. Regardless of why the student may have been saying it, even if it wasn’t to anyone in particular, another student in earshot may be affected.

An advantage Lockport has against bullying is the school’s Gay Straight Alliance club. Movalli said studies have shown schools with similar clubs do experience less bullying than schools without.

“It tends to help build tolerance,” Movalli said.

Movalli said administrators try to get parents involved, as well. Especially with the online world, where postings and messages can go unnoticed by adults.

“And we tell them, if you get a message (from a bully) don’t respond and save it,” Movalli said. “Responding, going back and forth could escalate it. Then when we investigate, often (it) is 50/50 who’s to blame.”

Parents need to be involved with their children, experts say, as schools can only do so much. Teachers and administrators seem to be the first line of defense, with communication and character education programs the ammunition.

“It can happen anywhere,” Fisgus said. “Hopefully kids see and learn that acceptance can make a difference.”

Contact reporter Joe Olenick

at 439-9222, ext. 6241.

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