MORGANTOWN - Area community leaders gathered at the Holiday Inn in Morgantown on the night of March 27 to hear from an anti-bullying advocate with a long history in school administration.
Dr. Claudio Cerullo, president of Teach Anti-Bullying, Inc., (TAB) warned the group that bullying is not just a problem for schools, but the entire community.
The Twin Valley Rotary Club hosted the event, and the Rotarians were joined by community stakeholders such as Twin Valley Superintendent Robert Pleis and Caernarvon (Berks) Police Chief Paul Stolz.
After the meeting, the guests said that the presentation was eye opening.
“This is deeper than any budget crisis,” Rotarian Dave Ballantyne said. “We’re afraid to talk about it. This is a start, to bring it to the public, and bring a voice to it.”
Rotarian Ron Moyer said the presentation left him full of empathy for what the bullied children had gone through.
“How can you distract yourself from this once it starts happening?” he asked.
Cerullo began the evening describing the experience of Bailey O’Neill, a Delaware County middle schooler, who died from complications related to a playground fight. O’Neill was chronically bullied in the weeks leading up to the fight, Cerullo said, but teachers, parents and peers did not report the incidents.
Cerullo emphasized that the effects of bullying are everywhere with stories about many other children who were driven to hurt themselves or others as a result. He said those consequences are avoidable if peers, adults and parents let them know that help is available.
“The biggest misconception out there is that no one is helping. They just don’t see it,” Cerullo said.
He then used data to back up the fact that bullying is everywhere, and that the problem has expanded beyond the classroom to places outside of school.
In Pennsylvania, two out of three students at the high school level say bulling is a problem according to Cerullo.
“They lack empathy. They don’t care how you feel, they don’t care that they hurt you,” Cerullo said of the bullies.
At one point during the evening Cerullo turned over the microphone to TAB’s Vice President, Daniela Redpath, who has an 11 year-old son who has Asperger’s syndrome. She discussed the daily struggle her son faces because of bullying at school.
“He’s lying on the floor, crying ‘I don’t want to go there, please don’t send me there,’” Redpath said. “(He holds) on the banister in the morning, and I tell him ‘you have to go to school.’”
With stories like Redpath’s fresh in the minds of the gathered Rotarians, Cerullo went through the steps that bullied children, their peers, their parents and other stakeholders can take when children are being bullied.
“Bullying is most likely to occur in schools where there is a lack of adult supervision during breaks, where teachers and students are indifferent to or accept bullying behavior, and where rules against bullying are not consistently enforced.”
Bullied children should tell an adult, walk away if possible, avoid the bully, or seek out a new group of friends to empower them, Cerullo added.
Peers who see children getting bullied should help the victim walk away, recruit friends to help, and report any bullying to an adult.
For a parent who feels their child may be bullying, Cerullo recommends that they make it clear that the behavior will not be tolerated, and if necessary punish them (non-violently). Teaching a bully ways of solving problems without anger is a big help, he said.
“I teach parents to have a little humanity, and how to teach their kids that there are different children, and (that) they need to know what they’re about, who they are.” Redpath said.
Teachers and counselors can make sure that a child knows what bullying is. In addition, schools must do more to report the bullying that takes place. To that point Cerullo went back to the story of Bailey O’Neill, who had been chronically bullied for three weeks - bullying which went unreported - before the playground fight that eventually led to his death took place.
Twin Valley Superintendent Pleiss said that his team is constantly working on reporting and bringing awareness to bullying, but everyone can still do more.
“It’s something we’re always working on. It’s always a process,” Pleiss said.
Cerullo also addressed the physical and emotional signs of a child who is being bullied. Children coming home with physical signs of abuse, and damaged or missing possessions, may be experiencing bullying. Emotionally, children may be more withdrawn or shy, may experience depression, aggression, or anxiety as a result of bullying.
The Rotarians said that Cerullo’s energy toward the issue was refreshing, and Club President Les Groves presented Teach Anti-Bullying with a $100 donation at the meetings conclusion.
Rotarian Moyer said Cerullo’s presentation and delivery were “awesome”, and that this experience drew attention to a problem that may be unreported.
“You know bullying is going on but some of these statistics are very scary,” he said.
Cerullo praised the partnership for taking on the issue of bullying. Rotarian Lee Van Orman, a retired high school principal, put together the initiative to try to help bullied children.
“For a principal, a chief of police and superintendent to get together on this issue, we’ve never seen that before,” Cerullo said, “So thank you.”
Dr. Pleis was excited about what impact the lessons of the presentation could have at area schools.
“I thought it was excellent, a great first step for the community,” he said.
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