New face of school bullying

By Chris Kieffer and Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal

Pat Brannon knows well how bullying can affect children.Brannon, 56, is an author of Christian and children’s books who also gives bullying presentations at schools throughout the Southeast. A former substitute teacher in Amory schools, Brannon spends a significant amount of time telling children about just how hurtful their words and actions can be.
She knows. Ask Brannon about the most memorable instance of her being bullied as a child, and she doesn’t blink.
When Brannon was in fourth grade, someone had come to her school to weigh the students – she doesn’t recall exactly why this happened. A high school boy was on the scale next to her and saw her weight.
Every day after that, the boy would come up to her on the school bus and whisper her weight into her ear.
“It was like every day, he stuck a knife in me,” said Brannon, who lives in Monroe County. “It doesn’t hurt me now, but I know it was wrong, and I don’t want other people to have to go through that.”
Bullying is still around, as it was when Brannon was a student and when her 75-year-old mother was in school. Yet the process of one student picking upon another has become much more complex over the last five years because of such inventions as text messages and social networking websites like Facebook.com.
Big males no longer possess a monopoly on bullying. Today’s bullies are male and female, big and small.
In January, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince committed suicide in Massachusetts after being bullied by her peers. Her assailants included three 16-year-old girls.
“Years ago, it was more face to face,” said Ronnie Bugg, a deputy in the Lee County Sheriff’s Department and the School Resource Officer at Mooreville. “It was always that the large kid wanted something and his only way to get it was by being that way.
“Now, with cell phones and Facebook, the appearance of a bully has changed. It is easier to type in and say something online that you might not be able to say face-to-face.”

Hidden bullying
The new face of bullying can be more difficult for students to navigate.
For instance, as Tupelo Middle School seventh-grader Walter Goss said, sometimes you can get a mean text message and not even know who sent it.
“You might not know who it is, and they might be playing a joke on you,” Walter said. “You don’t know.”
Tupelo Middle School Assistant Principals Brad Mixon and Kristy Luse said the lack of face-to-face relations can lead to quicker breakdowns.
“The human piece is removed from it,” Luse said. “Personal interaction is removed from it.
“On the Internet, it is such a flat environment. You can’t register feelings and what effect it has done.”
Fellow Tupelo Middle School seventh-grader Cris Roberts sometimes thinks it would have been easier to have attended school in the days before texting and Facebook.
“My friends tell me about people putting pictures of them that they don’t want on Facebook or posting things that aren’t true,” Cris said.
Cyber-bullying also becomes more difficult for administrators to monitor.
“Because bullying used to take place on the playground and in the locker rooms, it used to be easier to observe,” said Kelly Stimpson, administrative counsel for the Tupelo School District.
“Now with off-campus behavior, it is harder for administrators and teachers to see bullying happen. What we have to look for now is the result of the bullying. Does the student’s demeanor change because of the bullying?”
Administrators will need to rely on students to inform them of what is happening and of problems they are having. The challenge is prompting students to break their code of silence.
The key is relationships, said Tupelo Assistant Superintendent George Noflin.
“If I have a proper realtionship with a child, they will tell me what is going on,” Noflin said. “They may not want to, but I can pull it out of them. If I have a relationship with them, I can also do a better job of protecting them.”
Lee County Schools Assistant Superintendent Keith Steele had similar advice.
“Our counselors have to be aware of kids who show the symptoms,” Steele said. “They have to be very observant about those things.”

Inside the battle
Carolyn admitted that she can be a bully.
“I guess it’s the way I was raised up and where I live, staying with my dad,” said Carolyn. “It’s not something I have to do, but it’s the way I see people around my neighborhood.”
Carolyn and more than a dozen fellow students at South Corinth Elementary School sat down to discuss bullying recently. False names are used for each of the students, including Carolyn, to protect their privacy.
Carolyn was unapologetic and seemed uncaring of others’ stories of being victimized by a bully.
“Kids make fun of me verbally,” said Martin. “I’ve taken care of a couple of problems, but it’s still happening.”
Martin said he has dealt with the bullies in his life by standing up for himself, but Susan said she just walks away.
“People have made fun of me, my clothes and the way I do certain stuff,” Susan said. “I tried to deal with it, but now I just ignore them.”
All three students admit school counselors have taught them ways to cope with bullying.
The first instruction is always to tell a teacher, another adult or a parent.
But few listen.
Jason said he followed that advice, for all the good it did.
“I’ve told my parents, teachers, but they can’t do anything about it,” he said. “They don’t see the bullying, so there’s nothing they can do.”
Brannon, the Monroe County author, would encourage that student to continue trying to get help. She said children need parents and teachers to be their advocates.
“I think that is huge,” Brannon said. “If you let it go on and the bully knows you are watching their behavior, they may think you condone it. Taking action may change the bully’s life forever and it will definitely change the life of the person being bullied.”

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com. Contact Lena Mitchell at (662) 287-9822 or lena.mitchell@djournal.com.

Resources available to help students

- Officials encourage those being harassed to seek help.

By Lena Mitchell and Chris Kieffer
NEMS Daily Journal
One thing is clear about what victims of bullying should do – turn to someone they trust.
Nearly everyone interviewed by the Daily Journal about bullying – administrators, counselors, law enforcers and students – had the exact same advice.
“First of all, let a parent or guardian know,” said Lt. Sheri Hall, Youth Services Coordinator for the Lee County Sheriff’s Department and D.A.R.E. training coordinator for the state.
“If it involves something at school, let a trusted teacher know. Let someone know, don’t keep it bottled up and think it will go away.”
Bullying has been a hot topic since 15-year-old Massachusetts student Phoebe Prince committed suicide in January after being bullied by several peers, and it has raised awareness of what can be done to help victims of harassment.
Mooreville Middle School Assistant Principal Adam Lindsey said that since Phoebe’s death, many parents have talked more about the dangers of bullying.
Lindsey said it is important for school officials to maintain an environment where students feel comfortable expressing their problems.
A new state law will require all school districts to enact bullying policies that include language about electronic bullying. When the Tupelo School District revises its policy this summer, it plans to include language requiring students to inform teachers or administrators when they witness bullying.

Existing programs
Several existing school programs and resources already are in place to reduce bullying.
South Corinth guidance counselor Tina Kimmons said the school takes a very proactive approach to bullying. She spends time in classrooms every day discussing bullying and other issues.
“When the student suicide happened in Massachusetts, I went into every classroom to talk with the kids,” Kimmons said.
In addition to guidance counselors, the seven school districts served by Timber Hills Region IV Mental Health have therapists in each school.
“In our setting, mostly what we deal with are situations between students who have been referred to us,” said children’s therapist Carla Crockett. “When a teacher or principal makes us aware of a problem, we discuss it with the guidance counselor who works with the other students.”
The agency also provides in-service training for the teachers to help them recognize problems and understand how to handle situations.
The Prentiss County School District has asked that the “Bully-Free Living for Middle School Students” program be presented at each of its fifth- through eighth-grade classes, said Melissa Nash, an abstinence educator with the Tishomingo County Families First Resource Center.

Bullying plays
For the last two years, the Tupelo Junior Auxiliary has performed a play for area students about the harm that bullying causes. The play, “I Didn’t Think,” is about a girl who regularly belittles her classmates until one day she comes to realize the harm it causes.
“You never know how hurtful your words can be,” said Junior Auxiliary member Kristi Lake.
Monroe County author Pat Brannon travels to schools throughout the Southeast with another presentation about bullying.
“By the time I leave, anyone who has seen the presentation will know that bullying in any form is not acceptable,” Brannon said.

Law enforcement response
The presence of a school resource officer can change students’ negative behavior.
“One of my sayings to the students is ‘If you have a problem, I have a problem’,” said Officer David Derrick of the Alcorn County Sheriff’s Office. “Just my presence, talking with the kids, letting them know I’m there with them, eliminates some of the problems.”
Derrick recently taught an anti-bullying class to a group of Kossuth middle schoolers.
“The school administration and I agreed the lesson could be beneficial to them,” Derrick said. “Several of my students admitted it was things they were doing but didn’t think of it as bullying. They didn’t really understand that gossiping, spreading rumors are forms of bullying. They thought you had to physically hit someone.”
Consequences are a key element of the discussion, as well.
Depending on the severity, the result could be jail time, civil liability for injuries to another student, medical expenses or payment for damages to property.
“Everyone is held accountable for their actions and involvement,” he said. “You may not be the one doing the bullying, but if you’re following and participating, you’re just as guilty.”

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com. Contact Lena Mitchell at (662) 287-9822 or lena.mitchell@djournal.com.