Market a safe haven for kids
By SHEILA HAGAR
of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
MILTON-FREEWATER — Sam Hopkins-Hubbard appreciates that Milton-Freewater Unified School District is implementing a bullying prevention program with the new school year.
In 18 years of owning Sam’s Corner Market, a combination coffee shop, deli and convenience store, he has seen plenty of good reason to have a solid plan to address the problem in place.
His business sees a lot of lunch buyers from nearby McLoughlin High School, and with that comes watching kids being shaken down for lunch money, the strong pushing the weak and other signs of aggressive behavior, he said.
“I’ve trespassed kids off my property for being bullies,” Hopkins-Hubbard said.
The district’s program calls for approaching businesses on the town’s main thoroughfare, open during school hours and in the path of students traveling to and from school. The idea is to create islands of safety along the routes.
It’s how he’s always rolled, the merchant said.
“Every kid that comes into this store knows it’s a safe place to tuck into.”
Recently, a young woman came to the store to thank him for protecting her when she was younger. He remembered the incident. Hopkins-Hubbard said.
“Her mother was being beaten and her stepdad was threatening to beat her,” Hopkins-Hubbard said. “We put her behind the counter until the police came.”
Any child deserves that in dangerous or uncertain situations, he added.
“I told the school, ‘Put signs up in my window, educate the kids this is a place that can help,’” he said.
For him and his employees, it will mean business as usual.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Hopkins-Hubbard said.
MILTON-FREEWATER — The fact that bullying is a national problem spanning every age and demographic group — and that it can happen in any setting — is nothing new to Aaron Duff.
But when school starts Sept. 4, he and the Milton-Freewater Unified School District have a new program in hand aimed at taking on bullying at the six schools in the city.
With a $10,000 federal grant, the district and its residents will battle bullying cohesively for the first time, using the same language and same tools, said Duff, associate principal at Freewater Elementary School.
The money was used to buy the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, developed in Norway. It focuses on school, family and community involvement, improving student peer relationships, reducing bullying levels and preventing new bullying problems.
There is no question that school campuses are microsocieties, and bullying can be magnified within them. It happens in his own building, said Duff, who is beginning his second year as head of Freewater.
“The playground and cafeteria are where it happens most. Sometimes in the hall,” Duff said. “The unstructured areas.”
One plus for his school is the lack of a communal restroom.
“Looking at nationwide data, we wondered why we don’t have the problem in bathroom like other places do,” he said. “Then it hit us — every classroom has its own bathroom. And when it’s time for a new building, we’ll want to do that again.”
The act of bullying is described as an imbalance of power, aggressive behavior that’s intentional and usually repeated over time.
Then there are the bullied.
To a teacher, it may appear as a student unable to pay attention. To a parent, it can look like a child who dislikes school, Duff said.
“Nobody wants kids to not want to come to school.”
Most bullying is verbal or practiced through exclusion of a kid from a group, and it will never not be a problem to one degree or another, Duff predicted. “We will never solve it all. We’re always going to say ‘We’re working on it.’”
The Olweus formula — finding one program to fit all 12 grades is rare — has been implemented around the globe and has earned a reputation for effectiveness. It calls for all school staff to be involved, from teachers to bus driver to custodians to counselors. And it offers all-day training sessions, not merely a printed handout
“I wanted evidence-based,” Duff said. “I’m a taxpayer and I think about that every time I spend a dollar.”
Employing the concept districtwide is a marked change for his and most school districts, he said.
Typically, teachers do research on their own and design an action plan to work in their classroom. In other cases, administrators may develop a program for a single building. But such plans often go away when the teacher or administrator moves on to another school, he said.
“We had to make it where it can’t disappear,” Duff said. “We’ve got the manpower, now we’ve got the tools.”
The need for better anti-bullying became apparent to Duff in his first year as associate principal when several concerned parents approached him.
“We identified the way we were solving the problem was probably not the best,” he said.
His school teaches kindergartners through fifth-graders, ages in which bullying behavior can get a foothold in children too young to recognize what they are doing. It’s almost always a case of young, developing brains not understanding social cues and appropriate conflict responses, Duff said.
“These kids are still maturing,” said, but noted that Milton-Freewater “is lucky, we’re actually behind the national average for bullying.”
According to Internet sources, about one in four students report being bullied regularly, either at school or through online texts, Facebook and email. Children who fall into subcategories, such as those with learning disabilities, are more at risk for being taunted and excluded.
On any given day, about 8 percent of students in America stay home from school out of fear of being bullied, according to stompoutbullying.org. And 20 percent of students report having bullied someone.
It is also important to recognize and teach the line between bullying and bad behavior, Duff said.
“Two third-grade boys getting into a tussle in the hallway, that’s bad behavior,” he said. “Pushing a kid into a locker every day, that’s bullying.”
The same goes for “snitching” and reporting.
Another principal put it perfectly, Duff said: “Snitching is when you and your buddy rob a convenience store and you snitch on him. Snitching is not when you see a kid being pushed into a locker and you report it. Kids need to know something will happen when they report. I’m going to take some kind of action.”
The Olweus program adds the community into the mix, through parent advisers and business owners as partners in keeping watch over students. The family involvement part of the plan is crucial.
“I don’t have them all day,” Duff said. “A kid wakes up and looks at their phone and bam, there’s a message. The bullying starts first thing in the morning. Hopefully we can teach kids skills here to empower themselves.”
Sheila Hagar can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8322.