Bullies, contrary to popular belief, possess normal self-esteem and are of average or better intelligence, learned the staff from three Dunsmuir schools in the high school gym last Friday.

A pair of prevention specialists took turns presenting a two-hour workshop on bullying that both informed and challenged a few dozen of assembled school personnel.

Prevention specialist II Tina Robertson, MHB, was first to speak. “I've worked at the Tehama County Department of Education for eight years,” she said. “I've worked on a variety of prevention topics, including alcohol, tobacco and HIV prevention. This is the first time we've presented a bully-prevention training.”

Accompanying her was prevention specialist Yuliana Moreno, who has worked with the Department for a year. Together, they shared information about bullies and bullying, from the basic definition of the bully to the many ways kids can savage each other today through the internet.

Both emphasized during their presentation the need to instill anti-bullying awareness in children while they are quite young. They cited examples where classes of grade schoolers learned values of respecting differences in others and coming to the aid of someone they know is being bullied. They stressed the importance of delivering to everyone the message that students have the right to expect civility in all words and actions they experience during their school day.

“Every day in America, 160,000 children miss school for fear of being bullied,” Robertson read from her PowerPoint slides. She addressed both physical and verbal forms of bullying, the worst of which was social isolation. The worst result was a victim escaping the torment by killing him- or herself, an act known as “bullycide.”

Powerfully underscoring her message, she showed a video comprised of still shots of children as young as 11 years old who had taken that extreme option. One after another, photos of smiles appeared on the screen, smiles belonging to children who had found life too unbearable to continue.
Victims sometimes lash out. “Columbine was the result of bullying,” Robertson said. “In almost all cases of bullycide, the situation was known by the school, but no action was taken.”

Dunsmuir Elementary School principal Kale Riccomini had spoken on the issue just before the presentation. “We don’t see a lot of bullying, and when we do we address it immediately,” he said.

Castle Rock Elementary School principal Mark Telles said, “Every school has it on some level. Because we’re a little smaller, we can see it a little quicker.”
Said Len Foreman, superintendent of Dunsmuir High, “I am very familiar with traditional bullying, but not that well-versed in cyberbullying.”

“Anything you put on the internet is basically there forever,” said Robertson. She described how easily someone can snap an embarrassing picture with a cell phone and upload it in moments. “This can ruin a student’s social life,” she added. “It spreads like wildfire and will always be out there.”

She warned about sharing passwords with friends. If there is a falling out, a former friend can wreak havoc on another’s life by posing online as that person and posting damaging messages. It’s an impulsive act that cannot be undone. In another video shown during the workshop, students expressed regret over the unrelenting teasing of a classmate by using the internet.
Prevention specialist Moreno said that girls are about twice as likely as boys to be perpetrators, as well as victims, of cyberbullying.

Of those students who had been cyberbullied at least twice in the last couple of months, 62% said that it had been by another student at school, 46% said that it had been by a friend, and 55% said that they didn't know who had cyberbullied them. “A lot of the time it’s anonymous,” Robertson said.

“Every seven seconds, someone is bullied, said Moreno. “A lot of the time children don't even recognize that it is bullying behavior.” She and Robertson taught how to distinguish between rough and tumble play and the act of bullying. Moreno read a list of responses to bullying, ranging from talking to the offender to providing security for “hot spots” on campus.

The prevention specialists finished the workshop by inviting their audience to participate in a quiz that tested all they had covered in distinguishing bullying behaviors. Volunteers stepped forward to read a description of behavior from a slip of paper that they then stuck on a board under the heading “Bullying or Not Bullying.” Any errors were discussed.

After the presentation, staff and administration stayed to chat, about bullying and other things. Principal Telles said that this workshop was a collaborative effort of the schools, something he said he hoped to see more of in the future. Principal Riccomini agreed. “All three schools are small schools with our own budgets,” he said. “We can’t afford something like this individually, so we pool services to benefit both students and teachers.”