See the Albert Lea Tribune on Friday for an in-depth look at cyber bullying at Southwest Middle School. The report is the first of a series on bullying in the local secondary education system. -- Graphic by Stacey Bahr/Albert Lea Tribune

Archived Story

Focus group discusses bullying

Published 9:04am Friday, November 26, 2010

What would happen if students and adults could get together and talk openly about bullying? That’s the exact question staffers at the Tribune asked, and what came about was a roundtable discussion about bullying.

Three Albert Lea High School seniors: Shelby Williams, Nya Lony and Marley Cardona, the school board Chairman Bill Leland and Superintendent Mike Funk gathered to talk about bullying in and out of the schools. Tribune Publisher Scott Schmeltzer moderated the focus group and said he thought the adults present learned a lot about what students are seeing at the high school.

Everyone present at the discussion agreed it was important to try to stop or decrease the amount of bullying. Funk said it was most important that students at the schools are learning instead of worrying about being bullied. The students compared bullying to a rite of passage. Cardona said when he was in elementary school he was bullied and it made him not want to attend.

“Kids should feel comfortable,” Cardona said.

Williams agreed and said that since children aren’t naturally self-confident, bullying can have long-lasting effects on people. Lony said she hoped bullying could go away so students can have the good experiences from school.

“It’s a social place,” Lony said. “You shouldn’t have to be afraid to come to school.”

She described a time when she was younger that she and others bullied other girls at school. She said she hoped her actions aren’t still affecting the people they bullied. The students at the discussion then talked about what students could do to help people who are being bullied. They agreed that it’s hard to stand up to bullies for many reasons. One reason is that students don’t want to associate themselves with the situation at all, and the students agreed they haven’t been taught how to help with those kinds of issues.

“We don’t have bullying workshops or assemblies,” Lony said.

The students all said they’d like to learn how they could help with the issue, but currently they don’t have the tools.

“We’re trying to teach kids to take responsibility and ownership,” Funk said.

He said the district is hoping students step up and take responsibility by telling the bully to stop or by making a teacher aware, and the students present told him they haven’t seen anything like that. What they see are students who aren’t standing up to bullies or letting anyone know about the problem. They also said they’d like to see more teacher involvement in the issue.

“It would be awesome if they were more relaxed and open with the students,” Williams said. “Students need to feel comfortable opening up to them.”

Cardona agreed and said that, for himself, in middle school especially the teachers seemed distant and didn’t want to listen to students. Funk asked the students if they thought the teachers were aware of bullying or if they were more focused on teaching.

“I think they’re aware of it and don’t want to get involved,” Lony said.

Leland asked the students if they see teachers react to every kind of bullying or if they only get involved if it’s physical or disruptive. Cardona said he’s seen bullying be more subversive in the classrooms and then brought into the hallway. He said he thinks teachers aren’t oblivious to the problem but that they choose to avoid it.

Many different kinds of bullying were brought up during the discussion. Lony said bullying isn’t always as obvious as people think. She went on to explain it could often be between friends and by sly remarks or brutal honesty.

“Girls are just really mean to each other,” Lony continued.

Cardona said nonverbal actions like certain facial expressions or noises can constitute bullying. The group said Facebook has become an issue because fights between two or three people become fights the entire school knows about and has the option to join.

Cardona said he sees bullying between boys as more physical, though it is often verbal. He said he’s seen boys bully people because of the way they act or who they hang out with.

“They say things about your material things,” Cardona said.

The group also discussed why children don’t go to adults or anyone to talk about the problem. Lony pointed out that it’s hard to go to friends if they’re the ones bullying you.

“There’s a sense of responsibility where they feel like they have to handle it on their own,” Lony said.

Williams agreed and said that parents often make the problem worse. She said if a parent sees their child being bullied they may overreact and want to call the school, teachers and the bully’s parents. The students agreed that parents have a difficult role in bullying because while trying to fix it they might blow the problem out of proportion, but if they ignore it they could be hurting their children.

Cardona gave the example of one of his friends who doesn’t feel comfortable talking to his parents about problems because of how they have reacted to previous problems. He said children won’t want to talk to a parent who has told them to just get over other problems. Williams said she hoped students can talk to someone about problems they have.

“It’s really rough trying to talk to people and you might not feel that comfortable but it does feel good to just vent,” Williams said.

The students said they’d like to see more awareness of the bullying problem and said if it is always kept quiet it will never get any better.

“We need to make it more of an issue or something that gets talked about,” Lony said.

Cardona said he’d talked to high school Principal Al Root about assemblies on bullying, and about the possibility of having a diversity club. He said he’d like to see consistency with teachers who monitor the halls.

“I can see kids calling names in the hallways and teachers won’t even look up or will be talking to another teacher,” Cardona said.

Leland said he has known many students who have been bullied and that bullying is a topic he cares deeply about.

“We know it exists and a lot of people don’t talk about the extremes,” Leland said. “It happens everywhere — business, lunchroom and everywhere in families.”

Funk then asked the students how often they saw bullying in the school. Williams said she saw around 80 kinds of bullying each day and Cardona estimated around 30 to 40 kinds of bullying each day. Funk said that the district has three aims, with the first being to have safe, healthy, welcoming schools.

“It’s somewhat painful to hear of the bullying in our school system,” Funk said. “I appreciate hearing the fact we’re not addressing it.”

He said the district has been focusing on reducing bullying in the elementary schools and said it was good to know it’s something that needs to be addressed. He said much of training teachers is spent on making them better educators, but they still need to be aware of what is happening in their classroom. He said consistency is difficult because all staff members have a different threshold for what they’ll allow to happen.

“To be effective you need to be consistent,” Funk said.

Cardona said if teachers were shown what is defined as bullying and stopped it every time they saw it, he thinks it would mostly go away. Williams said if bullying wasn’t a problem at the school that students’ grades would increase because they could focus on their classes. Lony said she thought promoting leadership would help the problem, because if students are confident they’ll want to stand up for those being bullied.

How to stop bullying:
These are some of the solutions the focus group thought might help the bullying problem:
1. Active hall monitoring
2. More teacher involvement
3. Bullying assemblies or workshops for students
4. Better teaching of respect for all students
5. Have parents monitor text messages and social networking sites like Facebook
6. More awareness of the problem so it doesn’t get ignored
7. Teach students it’s ok to stand up to bullies
8. Parents take an active role in their children’s lives and pay attention to changes

Contact us:
If you have information or would like to be part of the bullying series contact:

Kelli Lageson
Phone: 379-3439
E-mail: kelli.lageson@albertleatribune.com

Scott Schmeltzer
Phone: 379-3420
E-mail: scott.schmeltzer@albertleatribune.com