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Bullying Forum Focuses On How To Intervene

Grace E. Merritt

May 04, 2011

Sure, there were horror stories told at a forum on bullying at Hartford Public Library Tuesday night:

The Hartford kid who kept getting pushed down the stairs. The boy who got jumped after school in Middletown and now has a metal plate and four screws in his mouth. The New Britain kids who had a condom full of juice thrown at their lunch table.

But the focus of the forum really was how to step up and stop bullying or as moderator Robin McHaelen kept saying, "If it's mean, intervene."

The panelists a mix of students, teachers and educational experts brainstormed with the audience to come up with tools and strategies they can use to stop bullying in schools.

Most agreed that one of the worst things to do is to be quiet, hoping it will go away.

Panelist Lori-Beth Munoz told of seeing her friend bullied frequently when they were both at Windsor High School. It got to the point that her friend had had enough and stood up to the wrong person. When he met to fight the bully after school, he was stabbed to death.

Munoz said she wishes she had spoken up sooner before the bullying got out of control.

"It's not snitching," she said. "It's about taking care of people."

Some in the audience suggested starting a gay-straight alliance in high schools, saying it helps students stick up for each other and raises awareness in the entire school.

Danielle Procaccini, a drama teacher who helped start such a group this year at Hartford Public High School, said just the existence of the club has sent the message that it's OK to stand up for bullied students and has made students more conscious of not using anti-gay language.

During the forum, the audience discussed words and phrases anyone can use in response to mean behavior, such as "That's not OK," "Ouch," "You know better" or "We don't say that here."

They also urged parents to be aware of what they say because their children are likely to copy them.

Jo Ann Freiberg, a consultant with the state Department of Education, railed against using the word "bullying," because no one identifies with it. "Nobody looks at the sign outside a school that says bullying with a line through it and says, " 'Oh, they're talking to me,' " she said.

Instead, she prefers to describe such behavior as "mean" or "unkind." And it doesn't have to be as severe as assault. Even gestures like teasing and eye-rolling can be mean.

Lani Black, a panelist and student at Bulkeley High School, said teachers need to learn how to deal with bullying and suggested schools hold an education session for them at the start of the school year. "Some teachers want to make a difference, but they are not sure what to do," Black said.

Freiberg said the state Department of Education has been doing lots of outreach to educate teachers, administrators and counselors about bullying.

The forum was particularly timely as the state legislature is poised to vote on a cyberbullying bill in the next few weeks. The bill would outlaw cyberbullying and require schools to intervene more quickly when students are threatened or harassed.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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