School works through challenges of curbing bullying
JOHANNESBURG — Danica Nowak, guidance counselor at Johannesburg-Lewiston High School, is part of the team whose responsibility it is to handle bullying situations, especially the victim's needs. The principal handles disciplinary action with the person doing the bullying.
Nowak says she helps the victims to work on their self-esteem, teach them to stand up for themselves and work with them to develop new strategies of dealing with the problem, should it arise again. School administration also advises teachers to be on the lookout for potential problems.
"There are various techniques students can use to deal with bullying, and we explore what will work best for that particular student," Nowak said.
At JLHS, Nowak and Principal Curt Chrencik usually become aware of bullying issues by the students themselves. It's usually not the parents. Sometimes the victim will report the situation. Other times a bystander will.
"We always tell students, if they see someone being bullied, to first say something to the bully to get them to stop," Nowak said. "Then, walk away with the victim and contact an adult if needed."
Bullying education is part of Johannesburg-Lewiston's health program, which students are required to take. Through the classes an emphasis is placed on respecting others.
"That's the biggest way parents can help with this issue," Nowak said. "They need to teach their children to respect others at an early age."
It is easy for dislike of another child to become social bullying. Nowak says it is common to see children ignoring a certain child on purpose. When Nowak sees this, she makes sure she steps in to talk about what is happening.
Identifying bullying is not always an easy task, however. Teachers and administrators are not always aware of relationship histories. When bullying behavior is observed, school administrators must learn whether this is just some one-time event or has it been ongoing between the students.
Sometimes, even friends can become involved in disagreements that escalate. Other times, what appears to be bullying may be just friends fooling around. Understanding the relationship can make a difference in how the situation needs to be handled.
Bullying is defined as any behavior or gesture — written, verbal, graphic, physical (including electronically transmitted acts) — that is intended to harm another person.
Matt's Safe School Law, signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2011, requires schools to investigate all reports of bullying, fill out reports on the incident and seek help for those involved.
"The teachers and faculty here care about students and whether they are safe," Nowak said. "It's important that students and parents report bullying to us, so we are aware of it and can handle the situation."