On Campus

On Campus: Stanislaus County schools tackle thorny problem of bullying

naustin@modbee.comNovember 13, 2013 

Nan Blog 1


— Bullying and discipline form flip sides of the same knotty school problem – kids, even good kids, can be mean. Lots of local schools provide activities and assemblies designed to foster a gentler, kinder campus.

Modesto High students will hear student testimonials and videos today as part of a monthlong anti-bullying effort. Next week, the film “Bully” will be shown in the library, and Nov. 26, there will be a rally at the flagpole and a sidewalk mural contest.

The issue is fresh from the headlines for the school, which Tuesday night had 19-year campus supervisor Jackie Munn fired over what some say started as a bullying incident.

On March 18, a girl and a boy student got into a fight. According to his mother, the boy had been bullied by the girl repeatedly and on that day she threw her milk and full lunch tray on him. In a transcript of a disciplinary hearing for Munn held by the Modesto City Schools Board, the girl and two friends told Munn that the boy had attacked the girl, a charge Munn repeated before shoving the boy’s head to the floor, hurting his nose.

Whether the girl or boy started it, campus supervisors broke it up. The boy remains on home study until January. While the district cannot say what happened to the girl, Munn supporters say she transferred to a new school.

Bullying has consequences when it becomes public, but perhaps even more so when it doesn’t. Bullying is tied to quiet signs of despair, including chronic absenteeism, dropping out and even suicide. A child is bullied on a playground somewhere in the nation every seven minutes, according to statistics gathered by Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Project.

Think it ends after high school? Each Saturday on the news desk, I listen to a never-ending stream of scanner calls dispatched to fights, fights with guns, fights with knives, people hiding, people fleeing, people drinking like fish, and people driving like maniacs. The first few weeks I was horrified. Now I barely blink.

School bullying led to a controversial law to allow transgender children to choose their own gender identity for restrooms and gym class. While parents voiced outrage at the law at board meetings, schools have long had to sort out those difficult tangles, Modesto City Schools Superintendent Pam Able said. “We deal with them on a case-by-case basis,” she said.

Last week I watched two Ceres High athletes talk to sixth-graders about being better friends. Juniors Ryleigh Honberger and Brad Bussard worked the crowd, showing ways to make friends with people who are different and stand up for kids who are being bullied. The sixth-grade teacher requested the twist on the planned Athletes as Role Models program after spotting mean, cliquish behavior in her class.

Honberger and Bussard asked the class if any of them were bullied – nearly half the class raised their hands.

One young man had one or both hands raised through the entire presentation. The teens didn’t call on him, but afterward I asked him what he wanted to say. “Karma!” David Janz said with conviction, explaining that bullying brings bad karma. Being nice pays off.

That roughly translates to what country singer Lizzie Sider, 15, said brought her to Waterford Junior High in Waterford and Julien Elementary in Turlock in October, part of a statewide tour she did sponsored by Pacer. She wanted to share her story, and pay it forward to help other bullied kids.

Sider wrote “Butterfly” about overcoming teasing and ridiculing she experienced in elementary school – coming out of her cocoon, essentially.

Julien Principal Linda Murphy-Lopes said the assembly was exceptional. “Lizzie was a sensation on our campus. Her empathetic level of understanding was heartfelt and she stayed and personally met every single student. Many shared little snippets of their gratitude with her, bringing her to tears on several occasions,” Murphy-Lopes said.

Maybe involved, empathetic teens and teen athletes can make a real difference, at least in a few lives, and hopefully change a few futures so they won’t end up as scanner traffic.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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