An issue once addressed by parents with the trite sayings, “boys will be boys” or “man up,” is now at the forefront of a national education debate.
Political leaders, athletes and celebrities alike have rallied in support of campaigns such as the “It Gets Better” project, a movement to support LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) youth, and now behind the Bully Project, brought about by a 2011 documentary showcasing bullying in American schools.
According to the film, over 13 million children are victims of bullying every year, while three million are regularly absent from school to avoid being bullied.
Peninsula schools have responded by creating dedicated bullying policies, said Alan Sarver, President of the School Board.
But according to Kristen Quintana, a Menlo Park martial arts instructor and anti-bullying advocate, most bullying goes on under the surface and is not reported.
“Parents and teachers are only aware of about 1 in 3 incidents that go on,” said Quintana, who is brought in by many Menlo Park schools to teach bullying prevention lessons.
Quintana added that bullying is best prevented by a response from classmates.
“Bullying occurs in an environment that allows it,” said Quintana.
Quintana pointed out that in the case of the viral YouTube video of a New Jersey bus monitor, who was repeatedly insulted by seventh grade boys, not a single person intervened to defend the elderly woman, even as she began to cry.
To that end, many high schools are instituting programs for students to take an active role in bullying prevention.
Woodside High School participates in the Safe School Ambassadors program, a national initiative that enlists student volunteers to recognize and address bullying within their peer group.
According to Principal Diane Burbank, these ambassadors can play a major role in combatting bullying that may occur under the radar of teachers and administrators.
“Sometimes it involves saying something positive when a group or a person is put down, other times it involves drawing attention away from the act of cruelty and bringing the victim to a safe space,” said Burbank.
Students from the Young Dreamers Club at have created an , which culminated in a large-scale event at the .
In addition, with the increasing importance of cell-phones and social media, schools are also expanding their initiatives to combat cyber-bullying.
Hurtful comments on Facebook or humiliating text messages, even when made outside the school environment, are nonetheless punishable by disciplinary codes.
“At this point, it’s very clear that the cyber world is as actively a part of the everyday life of our students as anything that goes on in a classroom or hallway,” said Sarver.
At its core, according to Quintana , bullying may be a problem of character development.
“The solution is building compassion.”
For more information on bullying resources, please visit http://121help.me/.