Give bullying the stick


by Latoya Burnham

A counselling advocate and an acting principal were on the same wavelength today when they called for a standardisation of methods to deal with bullying in schools.

CEO of Supreme Counselling, Shawn Clarke, told an audience of school children, teachers and principals this morning at Divi Southwinds, that effects from experiences of bullying can follow victims well into adulthood.

Speaking at the launch of an anti-bullying campaign to coincide with the launch next Wednesday of the local Marcia Weekes film, Chrissy, which deals with issues of bullying experienced by a 10 year-old girl, Clarke noted that a study he did earlier this year was the first in the region to tackle the issue.

“It is sad that we would have had this ongoing problem for years and the powers that be or other organisations never saw it possible to invest in getting the statistics to see how prevalent the problem is.”

He said he would be leaving the island this week to travel to the US to an annual anti-bullying conference and then enrolling in a course at one of the universities to examine the issue of bullying prevention.

Clarke said on his return, he was hoping to put together a Supreme Bullying Prevention programme for schools, which he also hopes the producers of Chrissy will be a part of. He said the intention was to give the policy to Government for its endorsement and subsequent implementation in schools.

“I strongly believe that sometimes we get down on our principals and our teachers for not doing anything about bullying… This is just a personal belief of mine, that some principals, their hands are tied; they don’t exactly know what to do about the problem of bullying.

“There is no set policy. There is no legislation that says to principals or teachers what to do in certain situations. So at school A for cuffing a boy, the principal will take one action, at school B for the same offense, another principal will take another action. So I think there needs to be clear guidelines on what needs to be done to deal with the problem of bullying,” he said.

Acting Principal of Princess Margaret Secondary, Wayne Willock, agreed.

“I will agree with [Clarke] up front that we need to standardise the sanctions across the board for the entire education system as it relates to [what is] meted out to the students who engage in this scourge of bullying,” said Willock.

He noted that the issue was one that had engaged local, regional and international attention, adding that what once was seen as innocent and normal play was now being termed bullying.

He asked: “Are we denying students, at any point, the right to have some fun? Are the students nowadays less confident and assertive than before? These are questions we can ask as well.”

Bullying, he challenged, needed to be dealt with in the very first instance that it occurred, adding that more guidance counsellors were needed in the schools to deal with the issues.

For most schools, the acting principal said, it was a case of one guidance counsellor to sometimes about 800 students, and when parents who also had to be brought into the situations were added, then it was too much for one professional to deal with.

Trained teachers, with such requisite skills, he proposed could serve to redistribute the challenge of too many students to one counsellor, and that the parent teachers associations, the old scholars associations and community groups could also pitch in to assist. (LB)

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