HARVARD — A small but cozy crowd of parents, teachers and administrators gathered in The Bromfield School auditorium last week for a presentation of the school’s new anti-bullying program: “Building a Supportive School Community.”
State legislation enacted earlier this year that makes such initiatives mandatory and limits choices to approved programs. Besides meeting the letter of the new law, the Bromfield effort also embraces the cause.
A task force that included Bromfield Principal James O’Shea and Associate Principal Scott Hoffman and their Hildreth Elementary School counterparts, Linda Dwight and Gretchen Henry, constructed age-appropriate plans and protocols for both schools.
Rob Jones of the Anti-Defamation League’s Zakim Institute was the senior training consultant for the project aimed at the high-school level.
Jones has been with the organization since 1988. He was hired by the institute’s founder, he said, Boston’s famed late Civil Rights leader Lenny Zakim.
From where he stands, the new anti-bullying law was a long-awaited victory. “We’ve been trying to get this law for 17 years,” he said. Now, people are paying attention to a serious problem that won’t go away unless is seriously addressed.
In place of “zero tolerance” policies of the past, the new action plan is “zero indifference,” Jones said.
After a brief introduction, Jones turned the floor over to the six student facilitators: juniors Elizabeth Wilkey, Hannah Porter, Tola Myczkowzka, Patrick Griffin, Fiona Shea, and Katie Chambers.
This would be an interactive session, the students said, providing a window into the kind of consciousness-raising workshops they’ll be conducting with peers this year.
First came “groundrules for dialogue.” The aim was to “create a safe environment” for sharing thoughts, feelings and ideas. An on-screen acronym got the ball rolling: First letters of the word RESPECT, with words linked to program precepts for each letter.
Risk. Say what’s on your mind, despite the risk.
Encourage. Get comfortable with uncomfortable subjects
Sincere. Be honest with everyone.
Participate. It’s really important to contribute.
Engage. The conversation must be inclusive.
Care. When workshop participants care about the topic, everybody learns from the experience.
Trust. An essential element so that everybody can be honest.
Another key word the acronym didn’t cover is LISTEN, the student facilitator’s said.
The audience added words, nouns, verbs, adjectives that aligned with the concept. The list included passion, support, curious, empathy, enthusiasm, responsibility, validate, sharing, courage, and truth. Each time someone called out a new word a facilitator asked. “Why?” Hoffman said the acronym RESPECT should be a stand-alone and summed up the program in one word.
Speaking of words, the definition of bullying is part of the new law, including causes and effects. The law makes it clear what bullying is and what must be done about it. For example, if a student reports an incident to a teacher or other school authority, in person or otherwise, the incident must be investigated. There’s a form for it.
If it’s a formal complaint, parents must be notified. Although the name of the accused and what happens to him, her or them as a result of the investigation is not released, O’Shea and Hoffman said each report is taken seriously and the outcome of each investigation will be appropriately determined based on findings.
Cyber bulling — using the Internet — puts old fashioned forms in a new light.
Bullying, for example, is defined in the law as the reported use of a physical, verbal or written act aimed at a student that causes physical or emotional harm or damages the victim’s property. It can also be a threat that causes fear, infringes on someone’s rights, materially and substantively and/or creates a hostile environment.
Cyber bullies are difficult if not impossible to avoid. They can target victims 24/7, virtually in secret and spread hateful messages like viruses. Consequences can be devastating.
To interactively explore situations that would be considered bullying, Jones divided the audience into groups, each with a facilitator, a topic and a reminder about ground rules.
About an hour later, O’Shea wrapped it up. “We all need to be allies in this effort,” he said. “It’s important to know the processes to address situations as they come up.” He said the whole program will be posted on the school website, psharvard.org.