Scottsdale Schools take analytical approach to thwart bullying

Local Scottsdale groups are working to proactively prevent bullying among young children. (photo by Creative Commons; graphic by Melissa Fittro; statistics by U.S. Department of Health & Human Services)

Of the 30 students in the average sixth grade classroom — one that is comprised of the best and brightest Scottsdale has to offer — eight of those students will be victims of bullying this year.

Of the same 30 students, nine are the ones bullying others.

These numbers provided by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services outline the severity and depth bullying reaches — a stigma many in Scottsdale are trying to proactively prevent.

Scottsdale resident and Human Relations Commission member, Daria Lohman, says she was bullied as a child, and is now putting forth an effort to make sure children in Scottsdale aren’t falling victim to the same tribulation she was.

National statistics show on average, 41 percent of school staff say they witness bullying once a week or more.

Whether a joke at someone’s expense, an anonymous social media posting or a physical shove, all three actions are a form of bullying.

The enigma of bullying has shifted and changed over time, but one thing remains, a bully is someone nearly everyone can identify with.

Forms of bullying is played out in movies, TV shows, music, podcasts and documentaries, often weaving personal antidotes and stories of bullying into tails ending in triumph, or, despair.

The 2004 hit movie, “Mean Girls” sheds light on a group of high school girls who bully each other and their classmates. Likewise, “The Outsiders” a book published in 1967, chronicles two gangs of boys who channel their bullying into physical fights.

Boys are typically bullied by boys, and are more likely to experience physical bullying. While girls are bullied by boys and girls, and are more likely to experience verbal bullying, rumor-spreading, exclusion and cyber-bullying, according to StopBullying.gov.

“In today’s world there’s always someone pointing fingers,” Ms. Lohman explained of today’s bullying climate in an April 12 phone interview.

“When I was a kid there were people pointing fingers and there are still people pointing fingers. So, in a sense, there’s still a lot going on, but also there’s been a lot of progress. A lot more people are less likely to condone it.”

Ms. Lohman has been working with the Scottsdale Unified School District through the Human Relations Commission, to ensure the students are in the best environment possible. The commission and district have ongoing discussions about the issue, she said.

“I think the Scottsdale school district is taking a very proactive approach,” she said. “I think Scottsdale is above average and doing the right thing by all students.”

One way to ensure a safe environment for all students is through the placement of a school resource officer on campus.

The Scottsdale Police Department has 10 officers and one sergeant who work within Saguaro, Coronado, Chaparral and Desert Mountain high schools; Cactus Shadows High School in Cave Creek; and Mohave, Ingleside and Cocopah middle schools.

Additionally, officers rotate their time at the district’s elementary schools. Arcadia High School has a SRO from the Phoenix Police Department.

“We’re in partnership with the school district,” Scottsdale Police Department Sgt. Jeremy O’Mara said in an April 12 phone interview. “SUSD and the police department do a shared-cost expense, we both have vested interest in the staffing responsibilities.”

Just plain wrong

Ms. Lohman grew up in a military family, which moved around frequently, and she continued traveling and moving around before settling in Scottsdale.

“As a child, when I was young, I was bullied at times. I saw the other kids were bullied and there’s just something wrong with that,” she said. “Nice people, just because they don’t meet everybody’s expectations, someone thinks they have the right to pick on them. It’s just wrong.”

One reason Ms. Lohman became involved in the city’s commission was because she wanted to discuss children of diversity.

“Kids are being bullied because they’re different in some respect — they’re LGBT, they’re people of color, or they’re just sometimes, over weight,” she explained. “A young over-weight kid was bullied to the point, and committed suicide. That’s just plain wrong.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2014, suicide was the second most common cause of death for ages 10-14, 15-24, and 25-34.

The forms of bullying are plentiful, but some include:

  • 14 percent made fun of, called names or insulted;
  • 13 percent are subject of rumors;
  • 7 percent have been cyber-bullied; and
  • 5 percent excluded from activities.

Ms. Lohman says from what has experienced, the Scottsdale Unified School District is providing a safe environment for students.

“If kids are taught that it’s wrong to bully, they’re less likely to do it as adults,” she said. “I think you have a better chance of correcting behaviors in the schools.”

Proactive prevention

Scottsdale Schools has been utilizing a new approach to student safety in recent years, one which includes an office-referral tracking system.

According to SUSD’s Clinical Services Coordinator Shannon Cronn, the district has been taking a proactive approach instead of a traditional approach to discipline.

“We’re looking at what positive behaviors they want to see on their campus,” Ms. Cronn explained in an April 18 phone interview.

A program called Positive Behavior Intervention and Support — or PBIS – is used on each campus to outline the types of behaviors students should be projecting.

This program places an emphasis on prevention of problem behavior, development of pro-social skills, and the use of data-based problem solving to address existing behavioral concerns, the SUSD website states.

“Within the framework they teach those behaviors throughout the school year,” Ms. Cronn said. “We talk about teaching behavior the same as academics — so they don’t know, we teach them. It helps everyone have the same idea of what’s accepted and not accepted to create a positive environment.”

Furthermore, the district tracks each student’s office referrals, which has helped to pin-point areas to re-target.

“Part of this framework is it’s data driven,” Ms. Cronn said. “We track our office discipline referrals, for students misbehaving in the classroom or elsewhere on campus. If students end up getting a referral, we can track that to see what additional support is needed. Do we have a concern where a certain behavior is needed to be re-taught?”

The district is able to determine if an entire student body needs to be re-taught the positive expectations, or if a smaller intervention is needed.

Ms. Cronn says the program was implemented in the last five or six years, and it takes an average of three to give years to become implemented.

“It takes three to five years of just that culture change on campus,” she said. “We’ve seen significant office referrals for problematic behaviors.”

One of the most successful high schools saw a 77 percent decrease in referrals, she said. Out of five elementary schools, the district saw a decrease of 32 percent, Ms. Cronn said.

“It’s really the shift in framework to being proactive and positive instead of reactive, and of course, we still see concerns that happen with the social media,” she said.

Young social media users

While school resource officers do work closely with school administration to provide a safe environment on campus, bullying is rarely an issue requiring law enforcement, Sgt. O’Mara said.

While Arizona is one of 48 states with anti-bullying legislation, bullying is not illegal, and there is no federal anti-bullying law.

(file photo)

“Typically what happens for bullying is oftentimes the school administration finds out about those issues first,” Sgt. O’Mara explained.

“A personal relation, things of that nature, a teacher or administrator finds out about it. They will coordinate with the school resource officer, and if it rises to the level of a crime then the resource officer will begin the law enforcement process.”

Sgt. O’Mara says concerns are brought to the officer frequently regarding a physical or verbal exchanges, and cyber-bullying activity is also a regular activity.

“It’s not common, but a regular activity that we have to take a look at for any criminal charges,” Sgt. O’Mara said.

Each Scottsdale campus operates independently, and the school resource officer takes the lead from the school administration regarding a plan of action and goals.

“In middle schools what we try to do in general is a GREAT program, that is a middle-school-age based program that incorporates — similar to what the DARE program used to be — communication skills, learning self respect, citizenships, early intervention,” he said.

When it comes to social media, the officers try to teach students how their actions can impact other people, Sgt. O’Mara said.

“Social media in general has become a learned behavior,” he explained. “Just like in normal society, kids are getting access to social media earlier and earlier in life, and they don’t have the life skills to use it appropriately.”

The downfalls of students accessing social media at a young age is their lack of understanding longterm ramifications that can come from using the internet.

“It’s always a battle trying to educate kids and parents, trying to enforce the laws that maybe get broken,” he said. “At an elementary age, social media is not uncommon and to have a full understanding to send a photo … that’s always a challenging part — the maturity.”

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be e-mailed at mfittro@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/melissafittro.

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