SPRINGVILLE — At St. Aloysius Regional School, Principal Scott Kapperman is getting out in front of bullying, with several initiatives he hopes will keep kids safe, both in and out of school. One of the greatest challenges, for administrators, teachers, parents and kids themselves, is social media and its pervasiveness, thanks to cell phones and handheld electronic devices and students’ access to them.
“When we were kids, even if you were bullied in school, you went home and it was a safe haven,” he said. “Now, it’s always there. Kids can’t get away from it.”
Kapperman said that, from his perspective, the best way to ensure students’ safety online is to have parents remain vigilant. He cited examples of students who had been bullied online whose parents said they did not know their child even had social media accounts, because they had never checked to find out.
“We’re an elementary school; they shouldn’t even have Facebook,” he said. “But when a student comes to you and says, ‘I saw this on Facebook,’ they don’t forget it. Once it’s online, it’s out there.”
To help parents stay on top of the myriad of social media networks their kids might be on, the school has released a handbook parents can pick up in the office, which outlines the different websites their students may be using and how they work.
“It’s hard to keep up,” Kapperman acknowledged. “But staying up to date on what’s out there is the best way to ensure your student’s safety.”
In addition, St. Aloysius has instituted an online dropbox at www.staloysiusregional.com
, where students can place anonymous tips about bullying they have seen or encountered.
“A lot of times, the kids don’t want to say anything, but online, they just have to click and they don’t have to expose themselves,” Kapperman explained. “We want the kids to feel like they can come to us.”
Recent research has shown that bystanders can make a difference, according to Amanda Nickerson, director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the The State University of New York at Buffalo.
“We are increasingly looking at the power of the bystander, or the people who witness bullying and harassment, and their role,” said Nickerson.
“We know that bystanders have a powerful influence on reinforcing the behavior (making it more likely to occur) or reducing the behavior, or its negative impact, by telling the perpetrator to stop, banding together as a group to say it is not going to be tolerated, reporting it or reaching out to provide support to the target.”
The St. Aloysius principal said that his school has not seen “a ton of issues,” but that he wanted to be proactive, not reactive, when it came to bullying.
“There’s nothing worse than keeping it inside,” he said. “We have a behavior policy in place and, with bullying, we have to look at every little altercation. The thing about bullying is that bullying is repeated. It’s something that makes people feel attacked, over and over. And online, it never goes away, so it’s like it’s automatically repeated.”
Nickerson reinforced that point, noting that she defines bullying as “a repeated pattern of intentionally aggressive behavior intended to cause physical and/or psychological harm toward a target where there is an imbalance of power.”
Since St. Aloysius is located within the Springville-Griffith Institute School District, Kapperman said he works with S-GI Superintendent of Schools Paul Connelly to unify their efforts to keep kids safe and happy, at school and at home.
“I was very happy to build a relationship with Dr. Connelly, to work together with the public district to build a positive force in the community,” Kapperman said. “Our kids go to different schools, but they talk to each other, they live in the same neighborhoods.”
He said that St. Aloysius utilizes the larger school’s resources, as well, including the school resource officer, who is provided by the local police department to provide extra reinforcement for any issues that may arise.
At S-GI, bullying is addressed in the official code of conduct, which defines it as “a variety of negative acts carried out repeatedly, over time. It involves a real or perceived imbalance of power, with a more powerful child or group attacking those who are less powerful.”
The S-GI code also makes a separate designation for Internet or cyberbullying, noting that “[The S-GI district] also prohibits ‘Internet bullying’ ... including the use of instant messaging, email, websites, chat rooms and text messaging, when such use interferes with the operation of the school, or infringes upon the general health, safety and welfare of students or employees.”
That district takes it one step further, also noting that “a single negative act as enumerated above may also constitute ‘bullying’ (if not more serious misconduct) based upon the particular circumstances, such as the seriousness of the act and/or the intent of the actor.”
In accordance with the Dignity for All Students Act, which S-GI has posted to its website at www.springvillegi.org
, Dignity Act Coordinators and Co-Coordinators have been instituted to handle “human relations in the areas of race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender (identity and expression) and sex.”
Two representatives from the Springville Police Department gave a presentation to the St. Aloysius students on Nov. 4, to emphasize the importance of refraining from bullying.
“Sometimes, when we say it, the kids start to think, ‘Oh, it’s just my teacher,’ or ‘Oh, it’s just my principal.’ But when it comes from a guy in uniform, it really hits home,” Kapperman said.
The officers led the students through role-playing games, to act out how they might respond in a bullying situation, and critiqued the way they handled each scenario.
Teachers also testified on the impact bullying had on their lives, even today.
“One of my teachers told the kids that she had been bullied in school,” Kapperman explained. “That was 40 years ago, and she still remembers the person’s name. What kids don’t realize is the lifelong impact even the littlest thing can have.”
This focus on bullying prevention is aligned with St. Aloysius’ mission to educate the whole child, according to Kapperman.
“We place a focus on ethics and communication, traditional manners and traditional values,” he said. “Our message is, ‘stand up, don’t stand by.”
As the dropbox and handbook begin to catch on, Kapperman said that he hopes both efforts make the students feel as though there are resources for them, whether they are being bullied or seeing it happen.
“We don’t want to scare the kids, but we do want them to know there are consequences for their actions,” he said. “We want them to know that everything that’s online is repetitious. It doesn’t go away. Think before you post.”