Principals present anti-bullying efforts

'Social kindness' programs among many discussed in yearly presentation

"Social kindness" and "student connectedness" are oft-heard phrases among Palo Alto school administrators this fall.

In a recent presentation to the Board of Education, Palo Alto's three middle-school principals enumerated efforts to address bullying on their campuses, a particular challenge in the pre-teen years. The discussion was part of the annual "Single Plan for Student Achievement" presentation mandated under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

"We're working very hard to improve student connectedness and reduce bullying," Terman Middle School Principal Katherine Baker said.

Baker said the school has a "social kindness" program aimed at teaching empathy and inclusion, in which each grade level focuses on a different area.

For sixth-graders, it's Tiger Camp, a middle-school orientation program involving community-building activities.

In seventh grade, students get anti-bullying curriculum connected to the content of a class. For example, students write "I poems," with a focus on what they stand for and believe in.

The emphasis for eighth-graders is on leadership and teaching students how they can be role models and "upstanders" for others who might be bullied or need help. About 45 members of the class volunteer to become leaders in this regard.

In other activities, Terman makes an effort to mix students in various activities, pairing new students with eighth-graders or having eighth-graders play board games with sixth-graders, for example.

"If we have a bullying incident, we'll have a lesson on that," Baker said. "If there's cyberbullying, we'll develop a lesson on cyberbullying."

Terman also has continued with "Project Wisdom" -- a weekly inspirational message read over the school intercom, ending with the statement: "You have a choice to be responsible or not."

"A lot of what we do is try to empower students at the middle school and give them increasing amounts of responsibility," Baker said.

In another activity, Baker said she had a group of students translate the school's "bulky and wordy" mission statement into "children's language."

Teachers meet weekly "to make sure students don't fall through the cracks," Baker said. A student's name goes on the agenda if a teacher is worried about academic achievement or notices the child is spending lunchtime alone, she said.

"This year we're expanding to a social-inclusion effort, collaborating with parents of a special-needs child and looking for ways to help students who are socially awkward -- how they can be more comfortable at a dance or during lunchtime," she said.

Jordan Middle School Principal Greg Barnes and JLS Middle School Principal Sharon Ofek struck similar themes in their presentations to the school board.

At Jordan, Assistant Principal Christine Wang runs a "school climate committee," and the school last year launched work on the youth-wellness framework known as "Developmental Assets."

"We've also had the National Equity Project come in and look at the cultural differences we're experiencing with kids with a wide variety of backgrounds," Barnes said.

"It's important for us to be aware of that and build connections with these students and try to get to know them." The National Equity Project is a nonprofit group that offers coaching to teachers and schools on how to boost their effectiveness in culturally diverse classrooms.

At JLS, Ofek said, "ABC -- academics, belonging and creating wellness -- is a guide for everything we do."

Ofek said the school's popular three-day "Panther Camp" orientation for sixth-graders, now in its fifth year, has been tweaked every year and barely resembles what it was at the start.

"It's completely different from its original year in terms of the character-education component," Ofek said. "Every aspect is revised based on surveys of students, parents and staff."

Barnes said he visited Panther Camp as well as Tiger Camp at JLS and will borrow ideas for use at Jordan.

"We've invited lots of folks to come visit and offered to support anyone who wants to know how Panther Camp is implemented," Ofek said.

"We're trying really hard to share what's going well with JLS."

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Posted by What's-The-Problem-Here?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2011 at 2:33 pm

It would be really great if someone at the School District were to be tasked to actually define, and develop recognizable parameters that outline this problem in terms that allow people outside of the school zone to understand. It's almost like this is another of those "the sky is falling" problems .. and no one is willing to stand up and say: "it's not as bad as it sounds". And if it is .. shouldn't everyone be told that it is?

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Posted by Michelle
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 20, 2011 at 7:07 pm

I wish more was discussed about girl bullying in school.

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Posted by Susan
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 20, 2011 at 7:18 pm

I wish more was discussed about boys being hyper-repressed in schools that are dominated by female rules. Boys are different than girls. Boys need to be aggressive and expressivse in an abundant way. I have two boys and two girls, and I know what I am talking about.

It might be better for the public schools to offer the choice of gender-specific schools. Grammar schools, these days, are hell on boys.

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Posted by eileen
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 20, 2011 at 7:42 pm

To Michelle - check out the documentary "Finding Kind" that was produced by two former young women who were the subject of bullying in their early school days. The documentary highlights the efforts these young women put into organizing the "Kind Campaign" as a way to offer restorative approaches to both victims of bullying and their perpetrators. The producers, Lauren Parsekian and Molly Thompson, traveled across the US for a year documenting stories of bullying and bulliers. The film is available to be shown in schools and has had a limited independent run in theatres.

Web Link: Web Link

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 20, 2011 at 9:10 pm

Ask the Director of Secondary Education, Michael Milliken, what his procedure was when he was principal at Jordan. He cracked down on bullying the minute it was reported. He noted that a lot of bullying is not reported and the key to stopping bullying is for students or parents to report it. Even students who witness bullying should report it to administration. The Jordan staff and administration keeps it all confidential and professional so students need not worry about backlash for reporting bullying.

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Posted by Get down to earth
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 20, 2011 at 11:05 pm

Has anyone started to compile a list of things that students should not do? That is, a list of examples of bullying. It doesn't have to be complete, and students could add to it, but teaching children what constitutes unacceptable behavior would be a good start.
All of the "programs" and "camps" and committees may be well intentioned, but seem so abstract and cumbersome as to be of marginal use.
It might be refreshing to teach kids some simple things that are wrong without all the education-speak.

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Posted by It's the parents
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2011 at 11:45 pm

If you look at the parents of bullies, therein lies the answer to why children are bullies. Either the parents are too lenient and do not set boundaries, or the parents are mean and the child learns from them. Either way, the child is not feeling loved, appreciated and respected by their parents. Parents should ask themselves why they even had children if they don't respect them. Parents should not expect their children to care about them if they don't care about their children. Don't complain in your old age when your children don't want to help you.

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Posted by pa parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2011 at 3:01 am

I think this is great, the emphasis on creating something positive instead of just focusing on anti-negative behavior. I wish we had this on the elementary level.

I wish the schools would start looking at the age spread phenomenon, too. It's relatively new, and seems to be a huge aspect of social stratification among the elementary boys.

Agree about the early education being geared to girls, but just as important is recognizing that it's geared to a certain kind of learning that was expected 100 years ago but that maybe isn't the best approach for the 21st century. 100 years ago, killing creativity and autonomy in students was a good thing.

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Posted by Parent of boys
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2011 at 8:27 am

I agree with Susan above who says that boys are different from girls and that the anti bullying wants to turn our boys into weak men.

I have no doubt that there is a lot of bullying, but I think we need to look at our definition of bullying.

Malicious aggressive behavior either direct or indirect is wrong. Period. But a couple of friends having a friendly tussle is not bullying but a developmental requirement of the male of the species. Testosterone is a fact of life which does need to be mentioned. Expecting the boys to act meek at all times will not turn them into the strong men we need in society.

Don't get me wrong, but I am worried about how boys nowadays are maturing. They are no longer able to play a ball game without parental involvement, driving them to practices, having uniforms and equipment given to them and if they lose a ball in the bushes it doesn't matter because there are plenty more. This is all an example of the softening up of growing up society is doing for our kids, and boys in particular.

Boys need to be able to get dirty, roughhouse, use up their energy, and live on their wits a bit, to mature into the kind of men most women want to marry. (and if you don't believe me on the last bit then ask a few young women in their 20s and they will tell you that they can't find any real men)

Like this comment
Posted by Yes, but
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 21, 2011 at 10:22 am

Yes, but do they stay happily married to those who have not learned to inhibit their use of physical or emotional aggression?

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Posted by Adobe
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 21, 2011 at 10:41 am

When guys tried to beat the crap out of each other during fights when I was in middle school and high school, I don't think there was a single time where anyone would describe it as a "friendly tussle". If things get to the point where people are punching each other, it's safe to say that some kind of "malicious aggressive behavior" is going on.

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Posted by alice
a resident of Woodside
on Nov 21, 2011 at 1:48 pm

I had all my children go through the P A schools. Glad to see they are really addressing the whole child -- that social and emotional issues are as important as academic progress and learning. I think this should start in kindergarten. It should be a focus of every classroom and every teacher. There should be discussions about good citizenry, and choosing good values as a part of every day along with all academics and given equal weight.

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Posted by extrapoints
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 21, 2011 at 2:04 pm

When I was at high school,they valued kids using three standard "academics,physical fitness,good moral",every year each classroom can elect one to three of those kids that match those,then they can bump their grades at the real test which was done nationally,and the total grade can be bumped 10 to 20 points higher where in a system one point means a life watershed that can make a huge difference.So you can see a lot of good kids helping low performing kids, and the whole environment is friendly and not competitive.

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Posted by Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2011 at 10:25 pm

I have talked to a lot of middle school boys, and none think there is any bullying. Is it really happening with boys? Sorry for my ignorance. Maybe the boys just don't mention it. I do see plenty of mean girl issues, but not sure if it gets to "bullying", at least not what I remember of bullying as a kid, which seemed much worse, actually. In addition, I see a lot of cliquey parents who seem to influence their kids to like certain kids and exclude others. That seems to be the worst part of it all.

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Posted by parent
a resident of another community
on Nov 22, 2011 at 8:24 am

@Mom- kids will usually deny that bullying goes on because they don't understand what it is (as don't many adults). Just ask the kid that is routinely pushed in the hallway (and yes it does happen at our middle schools). The "bully" will say "just kidding". There is still the "kids will be kids" attitude. Additionally kids don't want to admit they have been a target because it is embarrassing. Girls in particular will not identify that they have been a target, they just call it drama but it is drama that has long lasting effects.

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Posted by Obsever
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 22, 2011 at 9:52 am

There is plenty of bullying going on in PA middle schools. It often doesn't look like what people imagine. While these educators mean well, this approach is a waste of time. The more effective way of eliminating this problem would be to find out who the ring leaders are and intervene directly with them. Educating the whole school is preaching to the choir. Well behaved students already know how to treat others. It would take five minutes of really observing what's going on to discern who the problem students are. Nobody turns them in because the reprisals are too costly.The worst bully at one middle school was rewarded by the faculty at middle school because he was also adept at fooling adults. He has gone on to a life of trouble. Currently, at the same middle school, another bully rules the turf and everybody, although disliking and fearing him, is nice to him. This is too much for one young person to take on and should be resolved by the school. If they put their efforts on the bullies instead of this scatter shot, feel good stuff, everyone would be better off.

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Posted by extra pints
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 22, 2011 at 10:10 am

Often times,they do it outside school on their way home, so what can you do?

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Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 22, 2011 at 2:42 pm

By intervention, I mean zero tolerance, consequences, professional help for the bully, and keeping him or her away from other students until the behavior is corrected. A bully does a lot of real harm to others and does not belong in the mainstream unless they have been taught to treat others differently.

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Posted by HELLO
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2011 at 6:18 pm

"Malicious aggressive behavior either direct or indirect is wrong. Period. But a couple of friends having a friendly tussle is not bullying but a developmental requirement of the male of the species."

I have never seen any "friendly tussle" even close to being described as bullying in our schools. Statements like this belittle efforts to address the bullying problem.

Here are some examples, you tell me if you think they are bullying:
1) Child A relentlessly calls Child B names and insults Child B every chance possible under the teacher's radar, especially when Child B is vulnerable because of death in family. Child A enlists other children and siblings to gang up on, ostracize, name call, and insult Child B behind Child B's back.
2) Child C enlists friends to form a group that gangs up one by one on kids not in their clique, taunting them, making fun of them, especially at lunch when monitoring is low.
3) Child D belittles and demeans immigrant Child E so relentlessly, Child E's mother cries daily and moves the family away.
4) Child F forms a clique and whispers and giggles daily behind the backs of a few ostracized kids, who aren't allowed to join in sports on the field and are treated to persistent nasty remarks.

Shall I continue? I've seen many a wrestle and tussle between friends, and never seen them perceived as bullying, described as bullying, or complained about as bullying. As far as testosterone being normal, the top-heavy age distribution of boys has them ganging up and acting more like mean girls than testosterone-driven boys.

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Posted by extrapoints
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 22, 2011 at 6:34 pm

In Japan and Asian country,teachers and parents often ask the weaker kids to stand up for themselves,they would encourage kids to argue over issues and protect their own rights.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2011 at 8:39 pm

For those of you who don't think bullying is going on in middle schools, I have a question for you. If your child has Facebook (and you know about it as many kids have an account and their parents are unaware) are you just their friend, or do you have their password so you can sign in as them? If you are just their friend, you will see their comments and can only look at their friend's pages who haven't bothered to go through any security. If you have their password you can look at all of their friend's pages and I guarantee you, you will be surprised at what you find. Do you know about Formspring? Does you child have a Formspring account? This is an anonymous social networking site. Any one can post a comment on your child's page and most of them are incredibly cruel such as, you're such a whore, everyone wishes you would kill yourself, etc. Ninety percent of kids won't tell an adult they are being bullied or that bullying is going on. There are a number of reasons for this but, first and foremost, is they think adults won't do anything and will just tell them to deal.

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Posted by HELLO
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2011 at 9:02 am

They do that here, too. The trouble is that this isn't a whole solution to the problem, because often (as you might read in my examples above) bullies gang up on others in unfair numbers, or they are older and just farther along developmentally (and ganging up), or they pick on kids who are vulnerable, such as when there is a trauma (like death of close family member) or the family is immigrants who don't speak the language well or know how to get help. Standing up for yourself never solves a social environment where ostracism is used to bully.

I think being proactive about the whole environment as expressed in this article, where kindness and social responsibility is taught and valued for example, is also necessary.

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Posted by extrapoint
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 23, 2011 at 10:09 am

I was wondering why even those groups are allowed in schools where all they talk about is boy friend girl friend, drinking,brand name clothes or drug or... I guess the reason they want to bully is because they want to have every body's attention too, why do not our schools direct their interest to other area such as in sports in design where they can have their attention and fun (I mean not just for the competition of ivies.)

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Posted by Virgina Slim
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 25, 2011 at 7:27 am

Boy on boy bullying is way down...girl on girl teasing/bullying is extremely prevalent. Address the issue where it lies. Sorry girls, but you're acting like a bunch of jerks with your exclusionary behavior. You've come a long way baby, now try and get back to being a decent human.

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Posted by HELLO
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 25, 2011 at 11:19 am

In our school, boy on boy physical bullying is down, psychological bullying is way up, including the deliberately exclusionary behavior, exacerbated by the extreme age and developmental differences that have emerged in the last few years because of the fad of redshirting (especially boys).

As I said, the boys are acting like a bunch of mean girls, and as far as I can tell, taking it further even than the girls.

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Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 25, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Virginia, You are wrong. Hello, you are right!

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Posted by Upset Parent
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Dec 8, 2011 at 11:40 pm

Although most of the teachers at Jordan are wonderful, some teachers and other employees are also bullies. They use their position of authority to instill fear into students. This is also a cause of extreme stress in many students. The new principal at Jordan (Mr Barnes) should consider starting a program where the students can report these teachers by typewritten note, and place them into a locked box, located in a discreet place. Mr. Barnes should be the only person with a key access to this box.
These bully teachers, counselors, and staff need to be called in and disciplined.
These complaints must be taken very seriously. The long term psychological damage and bad memories of middle school may last a lifetime.
Teachers (like parents) should know how to behave and keep their cool.
My son and his friends know exactly which teachers are bullies, and which teachers regularly shout at students, and call them names inside the classroom.
Principal Barnes, please do something about these teachers. Trust your students and parents, and take each complaint seriously. Don't let these senior tenured employees intimidate you. Your students come first.

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