Type “cyberbullying” into a Microsoft Word document and it becomes underlined in red, denoting that the ubiquitous software program doesn’t recognize the term. The expression is so new that it has been included in the Oxford English Dictionary for less than a year.
Niagara University’s College of Education wants to make sure that school-age children can identify cyberbullying (and its offline accomplice) when they see it in print and in practice. Most importantly, the college administrators want to give the young students the tools and confidence to prevent it.
That was the focus of NU’s Be a Buddy, Not a Bully Conference, held today in partnership with the Orleans/Niagara Teacher Center Policy Board.
More than 200 students in grades 6-9 from the Newfane, North Tonawanda, Royalton-Hartland, Starpoint and Wilson school districts took part in the workshop, which included a keynote speech from a Niagara University student who developed a stutter when he confronted his aggressors as a child.
“You’ve all heard countless stories by now of kids who were bullied and committed suicide because of it,” remarked John Curtin, a junior communication studies from North Tonawanda. “That happened because they did something about it, but it was the very wrong thing, the worst thing anybody could do. It’s because they thought no one could help them.”
Curtin acknowledged to the audience that he was harassed by his peers from age 8 through his freshman year in high school. When he finally garnered the courage to stand up for himself, he developed a stutter, which was later diagnosed as a form of fibromyalgia.
While the speech disorder is typically a hindrance to those affected by it, it’s particularly troublesome to someone like Curtin, who aspired to be a television reporter. He has since turned his career focus toward print journalism.
“Although my speech gets in the way, I try not to let it because if I did, I’d be letting the bullies win,” he said. “I’m going to say this a few times – that (letting the bullies win) is the worst thing anybody could possibly do.”
In addition to hearing Curtin’s presentation, the attendees participated in exercises aimed at enhancing their ability to diagnose, report and diffuse bullying and cyberbullying situations.
Students attending the conference were those who district administrators have identified as leaders, with hopes that the students will return to their respective schools as knowledgeable anti-bullying advocates.
“To effectively prevent bullying from taking place in schools, it is imperative that students are trained to act as anti-bullying leaders, advocates and mentors for their peers,” said Patti Wrobel, assistant dean of NU’s College of Education. “We are beginning this series of workshops with middle school students because research shows that that is the period during which most bullying occurs.”
Recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows that 37 percent of teens have reported being bulled while at school. That same study reported that 52 percent of students have been victims of cyber-bullying.
In the U.S., 49 states have passed anti-bullying laws (Montana has passed a policy only), according to stopbullying.gov. New York signed the Dignity for All Students Act into law on Sept. 13, 2010. The legislation, which takes effect July 1, prohibits all forms of harassment at school and school-sponsored events, particularly persecution based on a student’s race, weight, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation or gender. That law also requires schools to establish anti-bullying curricula, train school employees to effectively respond to bullying, draft proper anti-bullying language in student codes of conduct and report incidents of bullying to the State Education Department.
In response, Niagara University’s College of Education recently introduced a three-tier clinical model on bullying/cyber-bullying, which was designed on research-based best practices. The model, meant to provide prevention and intervention strategies at building and district levels, is consistent with the approach used for Response to Intervention (RtI) and meets the requirements of the Dignity for All Students Act. All participants accordingly receive trainer certification.
As Curtain concluded his message, he asked all of the attendees to stand in place.
“Right now, you are standing up against bullying,” he said. “You can sit down now, but never sit down in front of bullying.
“I urge all of you – every single one of you – to be the one who says ‘no’ to bullying. Let’s not live in a world where children hurt each other.”
For more information about Niagara University’s education programs, visit www.niagara.edu/education or call 716.286.8560.