Community forum will address bullying

By Andrew J. Concatelli - ReminderNews Assistant Editor
Norwich - posted Tue., Apr. 5, 2011
Bully-Busters will host a forum focusing on ‘Bullying in our Community’ on April 13. Courtesy photo. - Contributed Photo

Reports of bullying have been splashed all over the media recently, focusing on the details of teasing, fighting, cyber-harassment or even assaults at schools in local towns and across the country.

Some people think that bullies and bullying will always be a part of growing up and going to school, but Debbie Kievits, coordinator of Bully-Busters in Norwich, believes that with the proper education, bullying can become a thing of the past.

To that end, Bully-Busters is hosting the Greater Norwich Anti-Bullying Coalition’s Community Conversation on “Bullying in our Community” on April 13 at 6:30 p.m. The forum for parents, students and community members will be held at the Bully-Busters office at 87 Broadway, at the United Congregational Church.

Bully-Busters has hosted similar forums in the past, but this one comes as concern about physical and Internet bullying has reached a fever pitch in the national consciousness, following several incidents of bullying that have led to teen suicides.

“We get calls every week, from kindergarten parents to high school parents,” Kievits said, of the regular reports of local bullying. “I hear about petty stuff in cafeterias to stuff that’s online.”

“In the past month, I’ve gotten at least 15 to 20 phone calls from parents. Bully-Busters helps advocate for them and show them how to advocate for themselves, and help them work with the schools,” Kievits said. “That’s where the idea for the forum came from – we want to give parents and students all of the tools available to them.”

The types of bullying can vary greatly, Kievits said, “from teasing and shoving, to a high school kid pulled out of school because bullying was so bad.” These days, cyber-bullying is also a growing concern. “Years ago, the kids could go to school and deal with bullying, go home and turn it off. Now it’s on their phones and their computers, and there’s no getting away from it. There are ways to block it, and that’s one of the things we’re showing parents,” Kievits explained, citing a new anti-bullying iPhone application as an example.

Schools and many parents are already well aware of the extent of bullying problems, Kievits said, but in order to make a difference, the entire community has to be engaged in a conversation to become aware of what is going on, and what can be done to improve the situation.

Part of the forum will focus on the idea of being an “upstander” – the term Kievits  uses to describe somebody who speaks up for a person being bullied, whether in the classroom or in the workplace. “You see somebody struggling, you help them,” she said. “It’s a community effort. That’s why the title [of the forum] is ‘Community Conversation.’ It’s not just the schools, not just the parents, not just the students. Businesses and community members have to speak up. We all have to take note of our actions… If we’re all mindful of what we’re seeing and saying, it can change.”

“We’re going to give parents information about laws, and teach people to speak up,” Kievits said. These laws include the “Safe Schools” legislation, which Kievits said was passed at the state level in 2002. “Schools across the state are supposed to provide a safe learning environment,” she said. “This encourages schools to form anti-bullying policies, and offer training for teachers.” This year, Bully-Busters is supporting an amendment regarding cyber-bullying, which would include more training for teachers and school staff members.

Kievits offered a few examples of the techniques for dealing with bullying that will be discussed at the forum: “Listen to your child,” she said. “Be open-minded, so your child can come to you, and hear what he’s saying. Go to the school with any problems; let the teacher know what’s going on. If you can’t get help from a teacher, go to the principal, and then the school board.”

“Try to educate your kids on how to react to [bullying],” she added. “The more the bully can get to you, the worse it can get. Come back with a positive comment. I tell kids to act funny or silly – the bully won’t know how to react… As long as the bully has an audience, he will continue.”

“And we want the parents to be aware of their role as role models for their children,” Kievits said.

Bully-Busters is a grassroots non-profit organization formed seven years ago by parents, students and local agencies through a mini-grant. The volunteer-run group holds after-school programs at area schools, teen programs, as well as other educational events in the community.

In addition to the evening community forum on April 13, Kievits said a similar event for students will take place at 3 p.m.that day at Kelly Middle School.

“In the seven years since we’ve been doing [the Bully-Busters program], we’ve made great strides… The kids already know some of the tools,” Kievits said.

Now Kievits hopes to get this anti-bullying message out to the entire community. “It can spread,” she said.

For more information, contact Kievits at 860-373-8630.

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