A Bully Among Us

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Stories about bullying are hitting the news every day. The rate at which children are bullying their peers and the intensity with which they are doing so is alarming. As an educator, I am concerned about the impact bullying has on each of our children and our learning communities. As a Rutgers alumna I was deeply touched by the recent suicide of freshman Tyler Clementi and the viciousness with which he was targeted.

In reading articles and blogs about Tyler and other victims of bullying over the past few weeks, I see that people are writing about what we already know. We know that bullying happens in every community regardless of race, religion, or socioeconomic status. It is happening in your community right now. We know that social media has changed the bullying game. Your children have been bullied, engaged in bullying behavior, or witnessed bullying on a social media site. We know that the best way to combat bullying is to educate parents and teachers together and make sure families and educators are on the same page. Many schools are already doing this.

But what do you do as a parent do if you want to do more about bullying in your community? What do you do if you're unsure of how bullying is addressed at school? Follow these tips to becoming proactive in preventing bullying in your community.

Gather factsFind out if your school has an anti-bullying policy or a curriculum it follows to address bullying. Both should be approved by the Board of Education. The anti-bullying policy will be part of the student conduct code. Check the Board of Education meeting minutes, your school's website, and the student handbook. If there is a policy or curriculum in place, it should be very easy to find. Know what's in place before you talk about what's not.

Ask aroundTalk to other parents and members of the community. Ask if they've witnessed bullying in the community. Have their children been targeted at school? Do they know of children targeted online? Is bullying taking place at school? After school? At the local park? Find out where and when bullying is taking place in your community. Though not an official study, take notes on what you here. Your neighbors have likely been affected by bullying and will be key players in moving forward to becoming a strong, united front against bullying.

Develop a planIf you're going to a Board of Education meeting, to a town council meeting or meeting with the school principal be clear about what you are going to say or ask for. If you find anti-bullying workshops, assemblies, or curriculum you would like to share with the school, have all the facts about that program available. Include the length of the program, cost of the program, philosophy of the group running the program, and testimonials from people who have used that program. Be able to present your audience with concrete ideas about how to prevent bullying. Bullying cannot be addressed in one setting; it must be discussed at school, home, and in the community. If you believe bullying needs a bigger spotlight, be willing to be part of the solution. Everyone in the community must be willing and able to address the bullies and the victims and find a resolution for all involved.

Bullying is a sensitive topic for everyone involved and emotions are likely to run high. Be calm and focused when discussing bullying in your community and in your child's school. Keep a proactive and positive approach. Preventing bullying is about keeping children safe and in order to do so, the adults around them need to engage in meaningful, respectful conversation.

Jennifer Cerbasi teaches at a public school for children on the autism spectrum in New Jersey. As a coordinator of Applied Behavioral Analysis programs in the home, she works with parents to create and implement behavioral plans for their children in an environment that fosters both academic and social growth. In addition to her work both in the classroom and at home, she is also a member of the National Association of Special Education Teachers and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. For more information, log on to www.jennifercerbasi.com.