Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.
The clever retort that slid many generations of kids past the school yard bully is getting a much-needed update for today's educational environment.
The Cabarrus County Schools system has launched a new anti-bullying campaign to revise its way of dealing with an old topic with new issues. The effort was spurred by North Carolina's newly passed School Violence Prevention Act and fueled by national headlines spotlighting the deadly consequences of bullying.
The campaign aims to educate teachers, students and parents on the kinds of bullying that occur today, how to prevent them and what to do if they happen. It includes a new website that provides helpful resources, including a revised systemwide reporting form.
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"I think it's obvious we have a national issue," said Donna Smith, executive director of student services, who launched the campaign. "Just in a sense, in the way people talk and regard one another."
Part of that comes from the technology students use today to communicate: methods that make it easier to bully at a distance.
"With cyber-bullying, they just don't have the filter," said Sue Burns, schools relations coordinator, who worked on the campaign with Smith. "It used to be when you were bullied at school, you could go home and you were nice and safe in your house."
According to a current report by the Nielsen Co., the average teen today sends 3,339 texts per month, or roughly 107 a day. Two thirds of the teens who use social networks online update their pages at least once a week.
"They're brutal. They are absolutely brutal to each other," said Sandy Valentine, assistant principal at Hickory Ridge Middle School in Harrisburg, who deals with bullying on a daily basis.
"It used to be 'He pushed me,' or 'She said this,' or something along those lines, and now we're getting a lot of the technology-type bullying: the texting and the sexting and the cyber-bullying."
A survey this year conducted by the district shows 37percent of secondary students think bullying is a major problem in their schools, and 38percent of elementary school students report being bullied in the past.
Reducing bullying starts with educating students on how to treat one another, said Carla Black, principal at Concord High School.
"We haven't taught young people to deal with issues head-on, or how to properly relate to other people," she said. "We have to educate one another. I think that's the biggest plus to what we're doing now."
Role-playing skits shown over the morning announcements, small discussion groups and a hotline to anonymously report bullying on the school's website have helped reduce the problem, Black said. But she still deals with two to three incidents a month since the campaign began.
Students caught bullying at Hickory Ridge are often assigned essays or required to do community service helping in special-needs classes to gain a different perspective, Valentine said. "We try to be creative and have the punishment fit the crime," she said.
The new School Violence Prevention Act clarifies what constitutes bullying. That was murky territory in the past, especially at the elementary school level, where bullying takes the form of name-calling and exclusion. Many incidents are often simply conflicts, not bullying.
The new reporting forms will help in those situations as well, Smith said. "If a student does fills out a bullying report and it doesn't really meet the criteria for bullying, that doesn't mean they won't deal with the situation."
Smith said the school system is making strides to reduce bullying in schools, but it doesn't stop with schools.
"This is not totally a school responsibility," she said. "We've all got to learn kindness and respect for one another, regardless of how different that person may be from us."