|Rachel Shepherd gets her photo taken with Bracken Johnson who played the part of the bully in Napoleon Dynamite.|
BullyingÃ¯Â¿Â½harassmentÃ¯Â¿Â½ intimidationÃ¯Â¿Â½disrespectÃ¯Â¿Â½ Such misbehavior isn't new to junior high schools in the 21st Century, but are ways of dealing with such problems today more effective than methods used in the past? Are these behaviors tolerated because they are expected of this age group? Are we making too much out of what might be considered kids behaving like kids?
These are some of the questions that junior high school administrators, counselors and teachers have been wrestling with for some time. They have, however, come to some conclusions about ways of dealing with many of these problems while continuing to search for more long-term solutions.
Schools throughout the Emery District have been working on initiating and/or updating bullying policies. Principal Garth Johnson at San Rafael Junior High said that his school has been reviewing several policies from other schools, synthesizing relative publications and looking to establish a policy that will serve the unique needs of that school. Of particular concern at San Rafael is not only dealing with the bully, but also dealing with those who encourage bullying. "We're looking at a policy that will involve the bystanders as well as the bully," Johnson said. "We believe that is the key to this problem."
At Canyon View Junior High School, a bullying/harassment policy has been in place for several years, and Principal Larry Davis says that it has been an effective way of dealing with offenders while also proving to be a deterrent to bullying. It involves a step-by-step process to be used depending on the severity of the action. However, he points out that the policy by itself is not enough. "We need to provide our students with on-going training and indoctrination if we want to maintain the control that we have now over bullying," he said. "It's a type of behavior that won't go away just because we have a policy against it."
More than ever before, that philosophy is playing out this year at both San Rafael and Canyon View junior high schools. At Canyon View the school year began with the seventh grade orientation meetings involving bullying, harassment and integrity. That personal-development training has also been expanded into several other powerful anti-bullying programs which have involved the entire student body.
Most recently, the students at San Rafael and Canyon View attended the Very Nice Person (VNP) program at their schools presented by Dan Potter of Los Angeles, Calif. Joining Potter in the program was Bracken Johnson who played the bully in the hit movie Napoleon Dynamite. The program included the bullying clips from the movie and Bracken's comments about his role as the bully.
Bracken, a native of Preston, Idaho, where the movie was filmed, said that while he played the school bully, he doesn't feel good about the way bullies treat others in real life. "It's not cool," he said. As an eighth grader, he recalled, he bullied a student in his school. "I felt really bad about it later," he said. "I called the kid and apologized. After that, we became friends and stayed friends clear through high school."
Potter presented to the students his own formula for becoming a Very Nice Person. It stems from an incident at his daughter's school in LA when a student was stabbed and no one even seemed to notice or care about it. At the urging of his wife Jeanine he took up the cause and began his personal crusade to persuade America's youth that "being nice is good." He offered several anecdotes where the actions of nice people paid off. "Being a nice person is advantageous," he said. "If you are not a nice personÃ¯Â¿Â½change."
According to the presenter, following a 11-step process can lead to anyone becoming a VNP. At the top of the list is to put others first. Next, don't hate. "Always, award others," Potter said. "When you see someone doing something nice, it's your responsibility to tell them. Compliment others." He called on a student from the audience to come to the front of the group and give a compliment to one of her teachers. Canyon View seventh grader Taylor Miller told the audience how much she appreciates Coach Bill Wright. "He's the best volleyball coach ever," she said. "He makes me laugh." Potter then asked Coach Wright to come to the front where he asked him how Taylor's comments made him feel. "It about made me want to cry," he said.
The next step is to know your body language. "Watch the way you interact with people," Potter said. "Look people in the eye and smile a lot." Step six is to do for othersÃ¯Â¿Â½ not do to others. "Look for opportunities to do all you can to help others," he said.
Step seven is to offer and receive hugs but only when and where they are appropriate. "Being a hugger isn't all bad," he said. It is also important to be a good listener. "Teachers love to talk," the presenter said. "That's what they do. Listen to them. Look at them, and again, smile a lot." Honesty is also an important part of becoming a VNP. "If you can't be honest with yourself, you'll be miserable," he said. He also pointed out that remembering the good in people will help eliminate long-term grudges and hatred.
Finally, Potter talked about the necessity of being sorry and saying you're sorry for inappropriate actions. He referred to Bracken's apology to the student he bullied in eighth grade and how that simple act turned into a long-term friendship. "Saying 'I'm sorry' can make you a VNP," he said.
The presenter joined Bracken in offering some strategies for students to use in dealing with being bullied or with acts of bullying that they encounter. One strategy is to walk away. "It does take courage to walk away," the presenter notes in his bullying workbook. "Once a person walks away, others will get the courage to do the same. Soon the bully realizes he does not have the approval or support of the masses and walks away himself."
Another strategy is to utilize body talk. "It takes a lot of courage to actually step up to the bully and verbally say something," the workbook notes. "But it doesn't take as much courage to give the bully a disapproving 'Body Talk' look. If the bully gets a strong disapproval by the looks of people in the crowd then he may decide to walk away."
The final strategy Potter suggests is to use the "not cool" approach. "The ultimate thing that one can do is to tell the bully 'not cool,'" he said. "It is best to draw as little attention as possible when saying this to him. This approach will give the bully an easy way to end it and not lose face."
The program was very interactive with the junior high students who were able to get involved on several levels. Their participation paid off at the end of the program when they had a chance to meet Bracken up close and get his autograph and picture. Potter also met with small groups of students prior to the general assembly, and he presented the school with a copy of his VNP workbook.
"Our faculty chose the seventh grade class because we wanted to saturate one group with as much positive reinforcement as we could and then develop the strategies over their three years in our school," Davis said. At San Rafael, the idea was to send school leaders so that they could return with the input and pass it on to peers and classmates. An extension of this program at San Rafael was the Breaking Down the Walls activity where efforts were made to diversity the students. "During lunch, each student was given a candy bar. Then the students with the same candy bars sat at the same table. By doing this, we were able to provide an opportunity for different groups of students to sit together, spend time together and learn more about each other. It worked really well, and we're looking forward to doing it again," Johnson said.
Also, all students at Canyon View and San Rafael were involved in an anti-violence program earlier in the school year which was presented by Amy Rasmussen of the Carbon School District. The presentation came during Domestic Violence Week and involved strategies to use in dealing with bullies. "The interesting thing that I observed," Mr. Johnson said, "was how uncomfortable some of the students felt as the subject of bullying was discussed. The presenter put a label on the inappropriate activity and clearly let the students know why it was inappropriate. Once those types of things are identified, they are a lot easier to curtail."
Each principal agrees that the focus early in the school year on issues related to bullying and harassment will pay off as the school year progresses. When efforts are sustained over time, the problems become minimal.