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State tackles bullying in public schools

By Hye-Jung Yang
Published: December 2010

To fulfill a requirement set forth by a new Massachusetts anti-bullying law, Newton Public Schools (NPS) held a training workshop on bullying for all staff members at Newton North December 16. Entitled “Bullying Prevention and Intervention, it was broadcast live to the remaining 20 schools in the school system.

The new state mandate comes in light of a number of suicides resulting from severe bullying. The law, which passed 38-0 in April, requires that schools provide written action plans for bullying, that districts provide anti-bullying training to all faculty members, that staff members report all instances of bullying, and that all high school students engage in anti-bullying education starting next fall.

The goal of the workshop, according to Newton Partnership Asst. Project Director Jenny Gamson, was “to learn about bullying and understand how it plays out in the school environment. It began with a 90-minute lecture from speaker Dr. Elizabeth Englander, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center, who discussed the scope of the bullying problem and stressed the importance of acting upon any instances of bullying.

The lecture was followed by a 30-minute question-and-answer session, in which staff members watching the broadcast were able to e-mail in their questions.

“Having everyone hear the same information at the same time was very positive, Gamson said. “Dr. Englander is a compelling speaker and I think most people were very engaged.

Bullying prevention is an issue that NPS has been working on for a long time. In 2009, Deputy Superintendent Paul Stein created an Anti-Bullying Task Force, and before the mandate was passed, the Newton Partnership had already been planning a training workshop on the importance of students’ social and emotional well-being.

“It was easy to make the connection to bullying prevention and intervention, since, at its most basic level, bullying prevention is about respect and tolerance for others, Gamson said.

“Bullying is something that we are very serious about, and it didn’t take a law for us to focus on this, as housemasters and teachers have been focused on this prior to this year, Principal Joel Stembridge said.

NPS and the Newton Partnership will continue to be active in bullying prevention. According to Stembridge, NPS is currently developing a curriculum for student anti-bullying workshops, which will likely consist of 10 to 12 45-minute workshops per year. The Newton Partnership will continue holding training workshops for staff members to inform them of NPS bullying policies and reporting procedures. It also plans to create a website in early 2011 containing this information for the benefit of students, parents, and faculty.

“I believe that, over time, we will see changes in the school culture, Gamson said. “The concept and understanding of the important ‘Ëœbystander’ role is still relatively new in our school culture, but this is beginning to change, and as it does, we will start to see a reduction in bullying behaviors.

“South does a very good job of working with community members around respect and tolerance for differences, Stembridge said.

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