Bullying is not as big of a problem at J.L. Crowe Secondary School as it is compared to the national average. Or is it?
That statement and the resultant question were up for debate on Wednesday as students expounded on the issue of bullying and the need to do more, or keep the status quo, at the school.
Utilizing the strengths of the school’s top two debate teams, 800 students were assembled in the gymnasium to absorb and give their own input via an interactive voting system on several questions, including should more resources be allocated to an increased bullying awareness program for all grades at J.L Crowe, or was there enough already being done.
Based on the debate the teams engaged in, students were able to text in their view. And that was an important part of the debate on the issue, said J.L. Crowe principal David DeRosa.
“It’s the kids that live it … a lot of things that parents and the general community are going to comment on is a perception that is typically second hand or third hand or outside,” he said. “I place huge value on giving the kids a voice to share with us their experiences, good or bad.”
The day was an opportunity for students to say the things the school was doing maybe aren’t meeting everyone’s needs, or that it was enough. The students helped the school determine the programs they will need to install in the school.
And there is a need to do more, stated the first debater for the pro-change team, Jesse Bartsoff. He asked students that if they did not do anything the last time they saw bullying happen, why did they do that? According to an in-school survey in November, 68.4 per cent of students said they did not want to get involved.
“That means the person you saw being bullied, you just simply did not have time for. You did not want to get involved,” he said.
But something has to be done to help them, he argued, because social exclusion can lead to teenage depression. Isaac Myer, speaking for the status quo team, interjected.
“Do you you not think that Mrs. (Loretta) Jones, our counsellor, is not already doing this job, and doing it well?” he asked.
“We have solutions in place to solve these problems, however, they are not effective enough because we see we still have 45 students that have bullying problems,” he replied. “We have to help them. We can’t just stand by and not (help).”
In the survey, 7.2 per cent of students (45 students) said they felt there was an issue with bullying at the school. Myer contended the problem was political, and the percentage of incidences at the school was small, with the bulk of people seeing the effect of bullying on TV from other places.
“And that is what the parents think is happening,” he said. “So they call for change,” and the school implements more ineffective programs to help people.
“It’s on TV because these are the big issues we need to deal with,” countered Ella Myer. “We need to stop this before it starts.”
She said students need to vote for a program of their choosing so it would be effective to help the 7.2 per cent identified in the survey as affected by bullying.
“How many of those students do you think were just putting down (in the survey) they were bullied as a joke with their friends?” Isaac Myer retorted.
“None of them because our students are intelligent,” she replied, drawing applause from the audience.
The plan for change proposed involved heightened awareness of the issue in the school, programs for the victims, and programs dealing with the consequences thereof.
“Bullying is a problem that needs to be solved at Crowe,” Ella Myer said. “And we are saying this number (of bullied students) does matter.”
But the majority (92.8) of the kids at J.L. Crowe felt safe at school, argued Kyla Mears.
“That is a sign the school must be doing something right,” she said. “To have a school with zero percent is nothing more than a dream.”
The student body agreed. A live online polling system found 79 per cent of students that responded felt the school was doing enough, while 21 felt the need to do more.
Standard practices have been in place at the school to show parents and families that the administration is in control of the issue of bullying, said counsellor Loretta Jones.
And the survey supports that view. When asked if students thought J.L Crowe was a safe school, whether they thought there was an issue with bullying, out of 800 students 92 per cent felt it was. Only 7.2 per cent of students said they felt there was an issue with bullying at the school, well below the Canadian average of 15 to 20 per cent.
However, the bullying survey sent home to parents when report cards came out last month turned up a different view. Of the 224 parents that replied, 44 per cent of parents perceived the school has a moderate to severe problem with bullying at the school.
On the same survey, when asked how many parents felt their child had an issue with bullying, only 15 per cent reported there was an issue with bullying with their child.
“We think this is people talk, the perception that people have, whether it is from the media” or third hand, because if it was such a big issue more parents would have responded, Jones said.
Starting in Grade 8, students are exposed to a one day bullying awareness program. Students learn the roles of bystanders, victims and the bully themselves, giving them examples, talking about statistics, as well as giving them some strategies for how to deal with it, what to do, where to go.
That is the bulk of the student’s preparation on the issue, said Jones, but there are also counselling services within the school to help those kids who are victims, as well as a moderator for situations that need one.
“We’ve had the program in place for five years. But what we’re talking about now is do we need to do more, and what should that look like,” Jones said.
Bullying situations at the school involve victim treatment, counselling for the victim and discussion of coping strategies. The school has always had consequences for the bully, said Jones, and those vary depending on the severity of what happened, and the track history of the student.
In the future, issues of bullying at J.L Crowe will be tracked better, said Jones, in order to determine if the situation was getting better or worse.
“In the last five years I can give you on one hand how many true bullying incidences that we have had. What we generally have is conflict, which is normal,” she said. “But as for a true bullying situation, we have had them but not many.”
The survey also revealed another contradictory fact at Crowe. Unlike what is happening nationally, verbal and social bullying were more common forms of bullying taking place at the school, with a minimal amount of physical bullying and the common form of bullying in schools nationally: electronic (cyber).
And, although the number of incidences is small, there is always room for improvement, said Jones. But unless the stakeholders (students) have an interest and are engaged in making decisions about what the program should look like, it won’t work, she added.
“So we want to make sure our stakeholders, our kids have a voice in making the decisions,” she said, which was the point of the day on Wednesday.
Counselling and some restorative justice programs are in place to help victims of bullying.
“No one is force to apologize, ever, but they do have an opportunity to talk it out and what happened,” said Jones. “Sometimes kids don’t want that. They just want it to go away and they don’t want that person to ever talk to them or look at them again. But we encourage that sort of conflict resolution, or that face-to-face restoration of the relationship repair.”