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Education: School programs take aim at bullying

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

There’s an effort in the Waccamaw schools to give bullies a black eye: metaphorically, of course.

A program that began this fall at Waccamaw Intermediate and Waccamaw Middle is teaching students to speak up about bullying and help create safer schools.

“It’s all within the power of the students,” said Michele Diamond, a psychologist for Georgetown County School District who works at the two schools. “Some children just need to be exposed to this information.”

She produced a video that presents different aspects of bullying, from taunting and teasing to physical violence, and encourages students to report that behavior when they see it.

“Very often I hear of issues with bullying and teasing,” Diamond said. “School violence may be decreasing, but bullying is increasing.”

The video was shown at Waccamaw Intermediate. Principal Tim Carnahan followed up with a school-wide homework assignment: come up with a poster to promote a bully-free school. The posters were due last week and now decorate the hallways.

“It’s such a hot topic. I get more concern here than anywhere I’ve ever been,” Carnahan said.

Much of the concern isn’t about physical violence. “I really think we’re making some gains on the teasing,” he said.

At the middle school, students have embarked on what principal Bill Dwyer calls “bully-resistant training.”

Along with the video, which Diamond provides in versions appropriate to different ages, middle school students used their daily reading time for small-group discussions about bullying. “Teachers and students are being refreshingly honest,” Dwyer said.

According to Diamond, teachers say they see 80 to 90 percent of the bullying that goes on. Kids say teachers see 25 percent.

The school-wide efforts are the most effective, she said. “We can continue to enhance that and carry it on in the curriculum,” she said. “I think the students want a safe school.”

Waccamaw Intermediate will continue the effort through its popular Youth Power group, and make bullying the focus of the group’s annual sleepover. The middle school started with a two-week program that wrapped up before the Thanksgiving break. Dwyer said he wasn’t sure what direction it would take in the future, only that it would continue.

“I want to start this dialog to say, ‘This is not acceptable,’” he said. “I’d really like to be more proactive.”

Empathy, tolerance and diversity are the goals, he said.

School board members, who saw Diamond’s video last month, support the effort and think it could expand to other schools. “I got bullied my entire life,” said Board Member Arthur Lance. “Of course, my answer was to fight back.”

Now that would bring a suspension.

Board Member Teresa Bennani would like to see more emphasis on anti-bullying programs in middle school. “There’s a lot of mean-spirited things that are allowed,” she said.

Diamond believes it’s important to start with the earliest grades to emphasize “understanding and acceptance.” Many children don’t realize the effects their words and actions have, she said.

She showed her video to her 4-year-old son. “He didn’t realize sometimes he’s being a bully,” she said. “He’s so sweet-hearted.”

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