Eagle County Schools are working year-round to keep bullying out of the classroom | VailDaily.com

Eagle County Schools are working year-round to keep bullying out of the classroom

Kirsten Dobroth
Special to the Daily

Everyone remembers the playground bully, and although for many of us those days are long gone, bullying remains a constant in schools around the country, especially in the digital age, when kids — for better or worse — are more connected than ever.

The month of October is nationally recognized as Bullying Prevention Month, but Eagle County Schools and community members take steps year-round to mitigate and lessen the risks children have for bullying.

Bullying in the modern age

Bullying isn't what it used to be; while we all might remember schoolyard cases of bullying growing up, the face of bullying has changed with the rise of social media and Internet access. In particular, the constant reach of kids to other kids via smartphones and the internet has made instances of bullying harder for kids to escape at home, and oftentimes conflicts that arise in the forums of social media can get dragged into a school setting.

While the internet can worsen the severity of bullying, some schools are using technology's reach to work against bullying. Library computers are equipped with easily accessible forums for students to reach out and report situations of bullying, said Kayleen Schweitzer, school counselor for Eagle Valley Middle School. Schweitzer explained that along with more confidential ways of reaching out via the internet, the school implements an open-door policy meant to create trust between students and faculty.

"Starting at the beginning of the year, myself and our principal and vice principal go into all the classes and introduce ourselves and explain what we do, how to get a hold of us and try to build that relationship right away," Schweitzer said. "We also provide confidential forms that students can fill out and put in locked mailboxes if they feel like that's the best situation for them to report a problem."

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School administrators, along with the help of local law enforcement, also make clear to students the ramifications for bullying, especially online, both by explaining the type of discipline that can be expected of certain behaviors at a school level or by getting police involved. That might seem extreme for school age bullying, but especially with the reach of technology, kids may be taking part in criminal activity, specifically in the form of harassment and impersonation, along with opening up the possibility of lawsuits because of threatening and harassing online behavior.

Outside support

Local counselors and educators advocate open-door policies both in school and at home, with family members being open lines of communication between children and educators, if need be, to help lessen problems that might be occurring between kids. Family members can also be proactive about online bullying by being involved in their kids' Internet and social media presence while also letting kids have privacy of their own.

"Technology can be amazing in the right setting," Schweitzer said. "But, it's important to lead by example. Limit screen time, don't bring the mobile device to the dinner table, and keep mobile devices in public areas of the house."

Family members can be important resources for school administrators and educators to be aware of situations between students that occur outside of school hours, or vice versa. Ashley Spafford, the counselor for Homestake Peak School, said the school tries to involve parents in different programs to figure out the most efficient ways to give kids the freedom of decision making and privacy, while also efficiently handling cases of bullying.

"It's incredibly important for families to be involved," Spafford said. "We do family nights to introduce our anti-bullying programs to families and bridge the communication gap with families to keep them involved in what's going on in school."

Setting an example

And while family members and educators can play an important part in being confidants and mediators in bullying conflicts, local schools are emphasizing the importance of role models and mentors who can help redirect negative behavior between peers.

Jon Kedrowski, Ph.D., is a mountaineer and teacher at Colorado Mountain College who works with the Education Foundation of Eagle County as an ambassador and recently spoke at an anti-bullying assembly at Homestake Peak School. The Vail local said getting involved with kids at schools around the area is important to him to give back to the community he's from, but also to try to offer kids alternatives to peer pressure and poor decision making through his stories of mountain climbs, goal setting and mentoring.

"Some themes I talk about with kids are not letting people tell you things aren't possible and surrounding yourself with people who set goals," Kedrowski said. "When I look back at my high school days, I've stayed in touch with high school football and basketball coaches, and having those mentors is key. I encourage the kids to find someone they can trust and confide in to help them in different situations."

Area schools are looking to implement similar mentorship programs with older students to set examples and act as trusted, older figures for younger students. Both Homestake Peak School and Eagle Valley Middle School offer mentorship programs for eighth-grade students to work as positive role models for younger grade levels. The effect is often cyclical, with older kids striving to be good role models and younger kids trying to follow their lead.

And while it's easy to say that kids should find a mentor or peer they can talk to if they feel like they're being bullied, standing up for friends or classmates in that situation is equally important to ensuring that student conflicts are ended. There's no shame in confidentially speaking with someone you trust about a classmate or friend that is being victimized by a bully — in fact, they'll probably be glad you did.