LIMA — Bullying can take many forms, and it’s changed throughout the years in the way it has manifested itself.
“Bullying is defined as aggressive behavior and includes an imbalance of power, such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity, and to control or harm others. In addition, this behavior happens more than once or has the potential to happen more than once,” said Aaron Rex, superintendent of Wapakoneta schools.
“There is a difference between what the so-called definition of bullying is and what is maybe kids just being mean to each other. There’s a power struggle there. Kids are doing it, kind of taking that power away from somebody else. It’s repeated. It escalates. Any behavior that is negative, the calling of names or the pushing, even if it’s one time, is unacceptable and those things will be dealt with, as well, but they don’t necessarily reach what is defined as bullying,” said Nate Garlock, director of safety and security for Lima schools.
Ohio is doing better than other states when it comes to bullying.
A recent survey conducted by Wallethub listed Ohio as the 35th worst state in the nation for bullying and the 43rd worst state for high school students who missed school due to bullying fears.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, in a 2017 study, 19 percent of students in high school admitted to being bullied on school property in the last year, and 14.9 percent said the bullying took the form of cyberbullying.
Thanks to the misuse of technology, more and more children are facing cyberbullies.
“This is, unfortunately, something that all schools face and always have. I believe that today there is more awareness, and bullying has only increased with the use of social media. You used to be able to escape it when you went home, but now, access to multiple apps, text messaging and more allows people to be cruel to other people 24 hours a day,” said Rex.
“Probably the problems that we’ve had, which is more in the middle school/high school, would be through social media because it’s a little easier to text somebody something than it is to say it face-to-face. Ten years ago, you didn’t have as much, [but] now you have fifth-graders that have phones all the way up through 12th grade, and we have iPads here, so that’s another social media device that can be used for right things and sometimes for the wrong things,” said Scott Mangas, superintendent of Ottoville schools.
Some schools are using the speed of the internet to their advantage in helping to report incidents that do occur.
“Districtwide, a year ago, we started an anonymous reporting app called BRIM that was just another option for kids, and we still strongly encourage our kids to go and speak to their teachers, their principals or any adult that they trust to talk with them to let them know what’s going on,” said Garlock.
“Whatever the concern might be, we wanted them to still have a way to be able to express their concerns about bullying so this app is an anonymous way to report. We don’t know who makes the reports unless they put their names on it and they don’t have to. It just gives us the information and then we get that in real time so within a few minutes we’re able to go to a classroom or the gym, the cafeteria or outside, wherever the issue is and hopefully be able to address that problem and stop it and we’ve seen some success when we’ve been able to do that,” said Garlock.
Bullying does appear to be a growing problem for many schools.
“I don’t know that it’s the number one issue that we have, obviously it’s a concern. You don’t want kids to ever feel bullied or to be something that causes them stress when they come to school, so we do our best to make sure it’s not a huge issue. That’s why we have certain things in place to hopefully try to limit the bullying that’s going on in the district,” said Garlock.
“At Wapakoneta, we are not immune to this behavior. We do educate our students about it, and when we become aware of it, we deal with it in a variety of ways. This can be done using education, discussion, discipline, phone calls home and a combination of all of these methods. The main thing is to let kids know that it is unacceptable and it will be addressed,” said Rex.
The solutions to bullying vary depending on the situation and where it’s happening.
“Every building is different as far as how they attack it. Their principals and their building coaches, they all kind of work together to figure out what’s the best way to solve those solutions in their own buildings,” said Garlock.
Ottoville schools rely on building relationships between their staff and students to minimize bullying.
“I’d lie if I said there’s no bullying going on,” said Mangas.
Ottoville has signs around the school promoting the School Violence and Bullying Prevention Helpline, which is 800-788-7254, option 2.
“Those are throughout the building. That’s an option. Our guidance counselor is phenomenal. Michelle Leach heads off a lot of those issues. She has girls circle, where she’ll take them all to lunch. She’s taken every grade level that I know of. They’ll all go in, sit in a big circle, have lunch together and just talk. I think she does a lot of preventative stuff with that,” said Mangas.
The district also utilizes the village’s police officer at critical times.
“He’ll come in probably about 15 minutes before school starts, and then he’ll stay until we got all of the doors locked and he’ll talk to some kids. He’ll leave and then he comes back during our lunchtime and then, working with Brian Siefker at Putnam County [Sheriff’s Office], we get a deputy that comes over here, and they’re usually around at dismissal time,” said Mangas.
Some schools utilize school resource officers to help keep bullying to a minimum.
Lima schools employ seven officers currently, with an eighth one coming by the end of the month.
“I think they’re a huge asset,” said Garlock. “Our whole program is based on building those relationships and when you build those positive relationships these kids, they trust you. They’re able to confide in you. They can tell you what’s going on. They know if they come and talk to you that you’re going to do everything you can to keep them safe, and they don’t feel like if they come and talk to you that you’re going to spread it out and it’s going to get out there.
“Our SROs have these really good relationships with our kids, so they’ll come, and if they’re having a bad day or they feel like they’re being bullied or they need to vent or they need someone to help them, they come. Our SROs are really good about going out and handling those situations not in a negative way, but going out and having that conversation explaining why they’re doing what they’re doing is wrong [and] how they can prevent this stuff from going on.”
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.