I Get an Editorial Shout-out

I’ve been a busy, busy girl lately, and haven’t been putting up as many posts as I would like (sorry – and there’s just so much to say! Back to school! New day care kids! Old ones graduating! Change, change, change!). Part of the reason is that I’ve been doing a lot of work for the Gazette, and my friend and inspiration Lynne Marie and I are working on a bullying prevention class for parents.

So, segue please, Amy, if you would – our editor at the Gazette, the very thoughtful Larry Parnass, gave us and our class a nice mention in Monday’s paper. And here it is:

Maintain resolve on bullying
Monday, September 13, 2010

Now that school is under way again, administrators are working to make sure a project all school committees are tackling isn’t only a behind-the-scenes bureaucratic affair. Ensuring students treat one another with respect demands a public and steady campaign.

No reasonable person thinks passage of the state’s anti-bullying law is the end of the story. When school began at Amherst Regional High School this year, Principal Mark Jackson met with entire grades to make clear that the school is paying attention not only to bullying that might take place in school, but through computer connections and social networking at home or anywhere.

Anything that interferes with a student’s ability to learn is the school’s business, he told juniors who gathered in the auditorium on the first day.

As a new year begins, members of the Aspire Project, created after an April community forum at the First Churches in Northampton, continue to work to keep the issue of disrespectful interpersonal behavior before the public. On Page 1 today, an Aspire Project story describes how the year is beginning at South Hadley High School, the educational community that faced the tragedy last January of Phoebe Prince’s suicide.

South Hadley Principal Daniel Smith notes that his school starts the year with better procedures to document and respond to bullying, but acknowledges that with 664 students, his institution must get the word out to many people through consistent and repeated messages.

He said students were informed on the second day that the school has adopted new anti-bullying procedures.

Even so, Smith acknowledges there is a difference between informing students about new rules – and changing their behavior.

“You will be talking to a student and you can see by their face that they understand and agree,” Smith told Kira Choate, author of today’s Aspire Project story. “But minutes later you see them in the hallway acting contrary to what they just agreed to. It’s something that happens with teenagers. By providing constant guidance and awareness I think we will see a change.”

We think Smith has it right. If bullying were an easy problem to confront and correct, it wouldn’t have produced so much anguish for so many people, here and everywhere. It is as real and durable as the worst aspects of human nature.

Now that a new school year is upon us, this is the time for our schools, and the community at large, to gather the strength and resolve needed to reach those people still inclined to demean others. They need to be convinced, not just told, that if they try to exercise power over others, they will be called out.

Throughout the fall, school districts will be working to conform to requirements laid out in the state’s new anti-bullying law. One of them is that schools develop clear ways to handle reports of misbehavior.

A new online reporting system for suspected incidents of bullying is being readied and may go online in South Hadley in October. That system seems promising, but presents its own challenges.

Administrators must be careful to screen reports and not allow students whose names turn up in reports of bullying to be accused unfairly.

It isn’t only families with school-age children who are taking these issues to heart. Two members of the Aspire Project, Amy Pybus and Lynne Marie Wanamaker, both of Easthampton, have been offering suggestions on ways to help younger children grow up with a strength of spirit and a self-possession that help protect them from being made victims of hostility.

Later this month, Pybus and Wanamaker will lead a free workshop in Florence. In a recent Aspire Project article, they described their approach to teaching children these skills.

“Our kids are watching us, constantly, with hawk eyes, to learn how to relate to the world,” they wrote. “Our job is to show them that each and every one of us is a valuable being who deserves respect. We must be ready to model this in every aspect of family life.”

On Sept. 28, they will gather with interested parents to talk about ways that young children can learn how to live in ways that leave them prepared to deal with people who might overstep boundaries.

The session is free and open to all from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Lilly Library Community Room. Pre-registration is required, however. To sign up, send an email message to trainer@compassionateconditioning.com or call Lynne Marie Wanamaker at 527-8317.

We appreciate the time and talent the two women are investing in this effort. And over the coming year, we applaud all those in our schools who keep in mind that a community that allows even one of its members to be mistreated doesn’t deserve to be called a community.

It’s me again. I agree with the sentiments, and Principal Smith’s quote is actually the basis for my next piece: why do teens look like they understand you, and then go out and do the exact opposite of what they agreed to do? More on that coming soon…

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