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Willows Intermediate School bullish on bullying
Being a bully is not a childhood right of passage.
Although teasing, name-calling, spreading rumors and smearing pizza sauce all over another student's clean white shirt might seem to go hand-in-hand with middle school, educators are doing more that before to curb an age-old practice that often leads to long-term wounds for the victims.
"We want all students to feel safe when they come to school," said Joe Gallaty, Willows Unified School District's new dean of students. "We don't want any student to be a victim of bullying."
But it does happen, even at Willows Intermediate School.
"Bullying can be defined as repeated, aggressive behavior that is intended to hurt another person, physically or mentally," Gallaty said.
For the bully, Gallaty said it's mostly about power.
For the victim, however, bullying is the leading cause of loneliness, anxiety and withdrawal from activities.
Nationwide, about 15 percent of students who don't show up for school report that it is because of bullying.
It is also the cause for one out of every 10 students to drop out or change schools.
"If a student is being bullied in sport, then they don't want to play sports," he said. "If they are being bullied in English class, they don't want to go to English class. If they are being bullied in school, then they don't want to come to school."
Statistically, about half of all students have witnesses a bullying incident at school, he said.
In the technology-savvy world of kids today, bullying has grown to include abuse by e-mail, text messaging and social-networking sites.
But technology has also given Willows educators a way to fight fire with fire.
Willows schools are using a online reporting service to give students, parents and community members a way to report abuse.
"Ever since we started using Sprigeo, we have seen an increase in reporting," said Joe Gallaty. "If bullying is reported, we have a better chance of intervening."
In fact, Sprigeo is a secure, safe way to report bullying or any safety concerns students or parents have, he said.
"It can even be anonymous," Gallaty said, "But because it is confidential, about 90 percent have given their names."
Sprigeo.com's on-line bullying reporting system provides school officials with a powerful resource in the ongoing efforts to keep all students safe," Gallaty said.
Students also feel more comfortable knowing they can anonymously report a bully.
Anonymity even gives students the confidence to talk about bullying.
"I haven't seen it a lot, but I have seen some," said one 10-year-old boy. "I think it's a good thing to tell someone."
Students were also quick to observe that they would also be less likely to engage in bullying behavior if they knew other students would report them.
"I don't want to get in trouble," said another student.
Although bullying can happen at any age, most bullying does occurs in fourth through eighth grade, Gallaty said.
"Since the beginning of school, we have talked to our students about bullying - What it looks like, and what to do about it if it occurs," he said.
While bullying at school results in discipline and sometimes suspension from school, Gallaty said better reporting of incidences can lead to early intervention and help for both the bully and victim before serious and often life-long consequences occur.
To the bully, it become a lesson in empathy.
For the victim, it allows school to once again become a safe, learning environment.
"It's all about educating these kids," Gallaty said.
CONTACT Susan Meeker at 934-6800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.