“The best indicator of a sociopathic serial bully is not a clinical diagnosis but the trail of devastation and destruction of lives and livelihoods surrounding this individual throughout their life.” Tim Field, anti-bullying activist
The war against bullying in schools has just adopted a new and hopefully potent weapon against the social disease that leaves in its wake shattered self-esteem, fear, self-loathing, and all too often, suicide. The National School Boards Association (NSBA) today announced a new initiative called Students on Board: A Conversation Between School Board Members and Students that is designed to get school board members across the country talking with students about school “climate”, a buzzword for the quality and character of school life.
This new weapon? Oddly enough, it’s conversation and communication, and the focus of the dialogue will be the students themselves.
In a teleconference this afternoon Executive Director of NSBA Anne L. Bryant and Mary Broderick, president of NSBA and a member of Connecticut’s East Lyme Board of Education, spelled out their plan to involve students in the process of addressing bullying.
“Feeling welcomed and connected to school can have a huge impact on student achievement,” Bryant said. “That’s why The Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) conducted extensive surveys on school climate, and why NSBA’s The Key Work of School Boards emphasizes: ‘Students cannot learn in chaos, fear, or embarrassment.’ It also says, ‘If you really want to know what people feel about their schools, ask them.’”
And who better to ask then the students?
To begin their battle against the bullies, NSBA is calling upon its own, members of local boards of education, and asking them to get involved. They have published a brochure, Students on Board, that can be downloaded on their website, detailing how they hope to learn from the students themselves exactly what problems afflict their schools and what these children believe are the solutions.
“Stemming the tide of student bullying is not going to be because of mandates," Broderick said. "We have to listen to students and give them a voice.”
Broderick said her experience in the East Lyme School District is that when students help form policy and develop the rules they are more likely to follow them. To that end, NSBA is asking each school board across the country to select two or three board members to become involved. These members, with the help of the school superintendent, would choose a group of six to ten students to engage in an hour-long conversation about school climate. Questions would include:
- Do you feel safe at school? Have you seen or heard about incidents where students were hurt, verbally or physically? Is this common or rare? What is school like for you?
- Have you seen someone bullied? Did another student or a teacher try to stop it? Tell us about it. Is this common or rare?
- Do you feel respected by teachers and staff? Can you give us some examples? Do students respect each other at this school? What aresome examples?
- Do your teachers care whether you are successful? Can you give us some examples?
- If you were the school board, what would be one thing you would do to improve the school?
If the responses they hear are anything like what was learned from the survey taken by the Urban Student Achievement Task Force of NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education titled Where We Learn, a nationwide survey of some 32,000 students in 108 city schools including New Haven, there’s still plenty of work to do.
According to the survey, “More than three-quarters of the students surveyed (77.2 percent) said they were not bullied during the school day, but fully half (50.2 percent) said they saw others being bullied at least once a month. Students’ belief that teachers could stop bullying declined with age. More than half of elementary school respondents (53.8 percent) believed teachers could stop bullying, but almost half of those in high school (48.1 percent) disagreed. Ethnicity also influenced responses to this question: Almost half of the African-American respondents (46 percent) did not believe teachers could stop bullying, compared to a quarter (24.4 percent) of white respondents."
NSBA hopes that school districts across the country will record what they learn from their students and report back to them. All information will be held confidential.
Broderick said she recently spoke with a 13-year old girl from Tampa, Florida, who said, “I love my school, but there’s a lot of bullying in it and I want to talk about it.”
Broderick said she is hopeful that there are others like this girl willing to step forward and get the job done.
“To address school climate,” Broderick said, “local school boards must listen to students and create an environment to analyze root causes and generate solutions that work for their community.”
For more information about NSBA and their initiative, visit their website.