Getting to the root of bullying in Howard County

Bullying is not a normal part of growing up, said Rosanne Wilson, a specialist for positive behavior support in the Howard County Public School System’s Office of Student Services, and it’s something students “should not have to deal with.”

Wilson was on hand for the fourth and final student forum on bullying prevention — forums held all through March — Wednesday, March 20 at Folly Quarter Middle School.

There, about a dozen middle and high school students broke into small groups to share how bullying behaviors affect the school environment, and to discuss practices that were and were not working when it comes to bullying.

“Your voices are important to us,” Wilson told the students. “We want to know what’s really happening in your schools, and we want to know how we can help change it.”

Some issues, students said, include anti-bullying Power Point presentations, where the students get so bored by the time adults get to their point, the point is lost. Or, teachers address bullies with general reprimands to the entire class, and if bullies are dealt with, they’re reprimanded rather than punished.

“The small group discussions really helped students open up, instead of having a teacher talk to them in front of Power Point,” said Debbie Choi, 17, a junior at Marriotts Ridge High School, who helped moderate one of the groups.

Bullying is becoming a bigger and bigger issue, said Ono Okojie, 14, an eighth-grader at Folly Quarter. While she said she didn’t know “why people feel like they can do that (bully),” she knows it’s “really wrong.”

Choi said students talking to other students, and standing up for each other, would help.

Tina Gao, 17, a junior at Marriotts Ridge, agreed.

“Kids may not want to talk to adults, but they’ll talk to other kids,” she said. “The most important part (of tonight) is getting their ideas out there, which is really the first step to improving anything.”

Gao said to combat bullying, the school system has to “get to the root of it,” in elementary school.

“We need something inspirational, or something fun, to get kids involved,” she said. “Because we hear the same thing over and over, and you get desensitized to it.”

Wilson said the information gathered in the March focus groups would be reviewed by the Office of Student Services and shared with the Anti-Bullying Task Force and Superintendent Renee Foose. The task force’s next meeting is in May, Wilson said.

Parents at Wednesday’s forum said they hoped the focus groups would give the students a chance to be heard.

“There are kids that are uncomfortable, not because they’re being bullied, but because they’re witnessing it,” said Tracey Davidson, a parent at Mount View Middle School in Marriottsville. “It’s really important that we acknowledge this problem and deal with it. … Building a sense of community where everyone belongs, that’s the bigger solution.”

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