11 News Special Report: Roughed Up at Recess

By: Tim Ciesco Email
By: Tim Ciesco Email

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - A recent study by the Family and Work Institute shows that one-third of kids are bullied at least once a month -- and six out of ten teens say they see bullying at least once per day. Experts say it's a growing problem that affects every corner of the nation, including right here on the Western Slope.

"It made me feel horrible. I'd come home every day crying and I wouldn't want to go to school."

This is life as a student we'll call "Sarah" has known it for most of the school year. (11 News has agreed to conceal her identity because she attends the school where she has been bullied). A victim of bullying at her middle school in Montrose, she says she was tortured by a group of students daily, whether it was name calling, harassing texts and facebook posts, and even one incident where her personal property was damaged.

"I always thought it was my fault," said Sarah. "I was really sad and angry at myself."

The kids responsible were suspended for a day. But she says that just made things worse.

"I couldn't take it anymore," said Sarah. "I got sick of not being able to be at school. And it sucks because I love school so much."

Today, Sarah only attends her two favorite classes at the school and is home schooled the rest of the day.

"[The school] didn't do enough," said Sarah.

School Districts say that's a complaint they hear a lot and one they're working to hear less of. In an email sent to 11 News, Kirk Henwood, the Director of Instructional Services for Montrose & Olathe Schools said:

"On one hand, there is a concern schools do nothing about bullying, but, at the same time acknowledgment that school involvement makes things worse. That is the crux of this challenging issue.

Montrose and Olathe schools take bullying and harassment issues very seriously as it ultimately impacts student achievement and students’ social/emotional development. At our middle schools specifically, students learn how to recognize bullying behaviors, as well as life and communication skills designed to reduce or mitigate bullying activities. Additionally, we encourage students to talk to teachers and counselors, use the Safe2Tell network that allows for anonymous reporting, and as a district have implemented Positive Behavior Supports (PBS) in an effort to reduce discipline issues in our schools. In these tough economic times, we are working hard to keep our counselor/student ratios low, as well as continuing to collaborate with a myriad of community agencies to support our students and their families."

The issue is the same in school districts across the nation.

"All I can express from our school's point of view is we do everything that we feel we can practically do to protect children," said Kelly Reed, Principal of Redlands Middle School.

Reeds says his school and schools across the district take reported bullying incidents very seriously -- and anytime one is brought to his attention, the school immediately investigates and intervenes. Sometimes it results in setting up a meeting between the students to talk out their differences.

"We try to let them be as adult as possible as a learning experience," said Reed.

Other times, however, it results in disciplinary action.

"It could be all the way up to involving law enforcement," said Tim Leon, Safety Coordinator for School District 51. "Bullying is a form of harassment."

They say, however, it's not so much what to do -- but when to step in that's the tricky part. Many times students won't tell them they're being bullied.

"If we don't know about it, we can't act on it," said Leon.

"Probably for every time someone does come forward, there's three or four times that they don't," said Reed.

Experts say that's because kids don't want to be seen as tattletales or making the bullying worse.

"You keep it to yourself," said Sarah. "It's really hard. You don't know who to turn to because you feel like everybody is against you and nobody is going to see where you're coming from."

Sensitive to that fact, District 51 recently launched a student Crime Stoppers program in all middle and high schools.

"You can report incidents anonymously," said Leon. "We really encourage students to use that tool."

Another challenge schools admit they struggle with is clearly defining bullying and collecting data that shows what problems are happening where.

"We can't really address the issues unless we know what we're dealing with," said Diann Rice, a District 51 School Board Member.

Enter the School Equity Advisory Committee -- a new community group launched in February by the District 51 School Board.

"I'm hoping that part of what the committee does is better our policy and make it so it's doable and schools can follow through with it," said Susana Wittrock, Director of Equity for School District 51 and a committee head.

But it won't end there. The groups also hopes to educate and bring awareness to the public about bullying, which often times happens outside the school day.

"The schools have access to the kids six hours a day," said Cathy Haller, Prevention Coordinator for School District 51. "But those things weed out into the evening hours especially with the cyber possibilities."

"We will start by looking at our board policy," said Wittrock. "Is it where we need to be, is it good enough?"

An approach Sarah hopes will help break the cycle of bullying and make is so no other student has to feel afraid or sad at school.

"I want kids who are bullied to know that they're not alone," said Sarah. "And I want the people who are bullying other people to see that it's not a nice thing to do."

District 51 says another big push it will be making this spring is educating staff and students on third party intervention.

"What we really want to look at, what I think is really one of our biggest hopes for tackling this is the bystanders," said Haller. "It's about saying to kids who aren't being bullied, you have to stand up for your classmates. You can't turn away, you can't ignore that this is happening."

If you want to get involved, District 51 says it is looking for parents, students, and community members to be a part of the School Equity Advisory Committee. For more information you can contact Susana Wittrock at (970) 254-5272 or susana.wittrock@d51schools.org .

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  • by Nun Location: Grand Junction on Feb 25, 2011 at 05:17 PM
    it's a vicious circle.... A child defending themselves against a physical attack by a bully is not a suspendable offense any more than defending yourself against an attack by a thug on the street is criminal. Besides I said to enroll them in self defense class to build self confidence. I did not say to start fights. Part of self defense training is to learn restraint and self confidence. You go ahead and raise your kids as you see fit. If the end up afraid to to speak in defense of themselves they can blame their upbringing and society instead of themselves.
  • by Mead Location: Seattle, WA on Feb 25, 2011 at 11:56 AM
    The US states with the highest crime rates, poorest academic performance, highest obesity rates and health problems, and largest welfare caseloads are also the ones with the highest rates of child corporal punishment. Of all the things prison inmates lacked in their upbringing, "spanking" certainly wasn't one of them. There is simply no evidence to suggest that child bottom-battering instills virtue.
  • by Mead Location: Seattle, WA on Feb 25, 2011 at 11:55 AM
    Just a handful of those helping to raise awareness of why child "spanking" isn't a good idea: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Psychological Association, Center For Effective Discipline, Churches' Network For Non-Violence, United Methodist Church Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Parenting In Jesus' Footsteps, Global Initiative To End All Corporal Punishment of Children, United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. In 31 nations, child corporal punishment is prohibited by law (with more in process). In fact, the US was the only UN member that did not ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The US also has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
  • by Mead Location: Seattle, WA on Feb 25, 2011 at 11:53 AM
    Recommended by professionals: Plain Talk About Spanking by Jordan Riak http://www.nospank.net/pt2010.pdf The Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children by Tom Johnson http://nospank.net/sdsc2.pdf NO VITAL ORGANS THERE, So They Say by Lesli Taylor MD and Adah Maurer PhD http://nospank.net/taylor.htm Most current research: Spanking Kids Increases Risk of Sexual Problems http://www.unh.edu/news/cj_nr/2008/feb/lw28spanking.cfm Use of Spanking for 3-Year-Old Children and Associated Intimate Partner Aggression or Violence http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/126/3/415 Spanking Can Make Children More Aggressive Later http://tulane.edu/news/releases/pr_03122010.cfm Spanking Children Can Lower IQ http://www.unh.edu/news/cj_nr/2009/sept/lw25straus.cfm
  • by Mead Location: Seattle, WA on Feb 25, 2011 at 11:52 AM
    Only suitable for minors?: Schoolchildrens' "spanking" related injuries (WARNING - These images may be deeply disturbing to some viewers. Do not open this page if children are present). http://www.nospank.net/injuredkids.pdf Reasonable and moderate? You decide. (WARNING - This sound recording may be deeply disturbing to some listeners. Do not open this file if children are within listening range). http://nospank.net/prj-006.wav People used to think it was necessary to "spank" adult members of the community, college students, military trainees, and prisoners. In some countries they still do. In our country, it is considered assault and battery (sexual battery at that) if a person over the age of 18 is "spanked", but only if over the age of 18.
  • by it's a vicious circle on Feb 24, 2011 at 08:13 PM
    Well when you do teach your kid self defense and they fight the kid back they also get suspended! Yes all kids deal with bullies but some go to far!
  • by Nun Location: Grand Junction on Feb 24, 2011 at 12:52 PM
    @Its Terrible, Yes I was harrassed and bullied, called names and pushed around. It continued until I developed a backbone and stood up to the bully. Once I stood up to the bullies and returned the insults they backed off. Had I not developed a backbone I would not have had the knowledge to teach my own children how to deal with the bullies. Had I been like you and continued to cower and cry about it I would have had to endure the bullies my entire life and not had the knowledge to teach my own children how to stand up for themselves. Even if standing up to a bully results in a fat lip or bloody nose that hurts less and for a shorter period of time than cowering in the corner to avoid confontation. Enroll your kid in a self defense class to give them confidence. Help them to develope some quick comebacks to insults. Encourage them to let it roll of there backs because insults really don't matter. Its up to you as a parent to raise your kids and teach them lifes lessons.
  • by Its Terrible Location: Montrose on Feb 24, 2011 at 10:26 AM
    @Nun, Have you ever had to endure being bullied? From your comments I am guessing not. I was one of those kids that was bullied, we moved and I had to change schools a few times before we settled. The kids at the new schools picked up on some physical problems that I had and that was all it took for relentless picking on me until I graduated High School. It was a horrible experience! Nobody would help, and I have deep scars as an adult from it. Yes all kids are going to go through this at one point in time, but for the relentless stuff... its not coddling our kids, maybe we don't want them to have to grow up with the same garbage that we had to deal with. Enough is enough!!!
  • by Nun Location: Grand Junction on Feb 24, 2011 at 07:55 AM
    Political Correctness gone wild. Kids are kids and will pick on each other no matter how much legislation is passed. Name calling and other forms of intimidation teaches kids to deal with peers. If these kids grow up coddled and protected from everything stressful or intimadating how are they ever going to deal with life as an adult. Are they going to run to mommy at 32 every time the deal doesn't go their way. As long as its not physical then let kids be kids and learn to be strong willed adults instead of protected babies.
  • by sk Location: gj on Feb 24, 2011 at 06:43 AM
    A little disipline on the home front would help!! According to the laws on the books every parent has the right to disipline their children. This means that those parents can spank that child just as long as they do not leave any marks. This means that you may not beat your child but you may spank them. Ask any police officer what the law reads on this and they will tell you that you have the right to disipline your child. Parents need to quit being afraid of the kids and start taking back the control in the house and teaching these kids to have respect for others. A little bit of soap in the potty mouths will help also. This all goes back to the home....no disipline and the kids run rampant everywhere with no respect for others because they have no respect for themselves!! Parents need to research this and start taking back the authority in the relationship!!
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