MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We'll swing back to the District now for a story about an age old problem. Bullying. Last year, Mayor Vincent Gray signed a law creating a new anti-bullying task force for D.C. The aim was to create a new city wide policy to prevent harassment and bullying, and this school year is the first in which that policy takes effect in both traditional and public charter schools. Steven Yenzer visited Two Rivers Public Charter School in D.C.'s NoMa neighborhood to talk with one of the people responsible for addressing the problem.
MR. STEVEN YENZER
Here at Two Rivers, the kids are on their best behavior when a visitor comes by.
MS. SUZANNE GREENFIELD
I'm Suzanne Greenfield, and I'm the director of the Citywide Bullying Prevention Program.
Greenfield has been working on this issue for a while. She was a member of the task force created by Mayor Gray, and she says one of the first goals was just to define what bullying is.
It's much more of an abusive situation than it is that very long continuum that we all have to deal with of negative behaviors, which start with teasing and can escalate. It's hard, sometimes, to define if something actually is bullying. But we do want to say, no, this is something very, very specific.
So, I wanted to talk a little bit about the plan. One of the things that you see a lot is this idea of evidence based strategies. What does that mean, exactly, to be evidence based?
A lot of research has actually been done on bullying, and they have really learned a lot of things about what works and what doesn't work. For example, we've really found out that zero tolerance policies don't work. Often times, they really don't address the social emotional needs of either the student that's been bullied or the student that participates in the bullying.
Also, it seems like a big part of this, in addition to addressing bullying, is also addressing how victims of bullying deal with it. So, how has that added to your change in strategy for dealing with that?
I think some of it is really building resilience. The fact of the matter is, we do, again, have a lot of information about what kids tend to get bullied, what kids report the most amount of bullying. And so we can sort of say that there are certain kids that might be more likely to be bullied, and, for example, that would be kids with disabilities, kids who are or are perceived to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. So, we can step back and say, ok, how are we gonna frame our community so those kids feel safe and respected?
Now, how do you send that message, because I imagine you don't wanna grab all those kids that you think might be bullied and say, listen, you guys might be a target. I want you to know. So, how do you do that?
No, we do not want to put kids that we think are at risk under the microscope and tell them to defend themselves. On the contrary, but I think in building that sense that everybody's included in this community, we're all part of this. Again, I keep going back to the research, because it's my job. But, the fact of the matter is that they found that teachers who said, don't do that. I don't like it when you speak to so and so that way actually had a much more enormous effect than, don't do that. Don't you think you hurt that kid's feelings?
Because when teachers take ownership and they are saying to kids, no, this is my space and this is my community and I don't like it because that hurts me, it actually has an effect.
So, another issue that's receiving a lot of attention is bullying related to sexual orientation and gender expression. Do you think we need to pay particular attention to that kind of harassment or bullying?
The policy is underwritten by the human rights law of The District of Columbia, so it enumerates a number of categories of people who, potentially, would face discrimination. And that includes sexual orientation, perceived sexual orientation, gender identity. But we don’t wanna limit it to any particular group, because any kid could get bullied for any reason. And I think what we do know, again, from what's happened over the last 10 or 15 years, when we've looked at the risk factors for our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth in schools, we've learned a lot about how to make school climate safer.
So, we wanna learn from the research of how we've made school safer, but we also want to be careful that it doesn't become about categories of kids and not just kids in general. The truth is that you can be, you know, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and be a bully or be bullied. And both issues need to be addressed. But I also want to make sure we understand this is about kids and making all kids feel safe.
That was Suzanne Greenfield, director of The Citywide Bullying Prevention Program, talking with Metro Connection's Steven Yenzer. And we're curious, what's your own experience with bullying? How do you think it's best to deal with bullying among kids? You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet. Our handle is @wamumetro.
After the break, hitting the courts with a dodge ball champ.
MS. PANIZ ASGARI
Some people do the no look throw.
MS. LAUREN OBER
Which is like...
I'm not catching that.
That's not hard.
No, but I'm not catching it. I might break a nail.
It's just ahead on "Metro Connection" on WAMU 88.5.
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