Children of all ages get bullied and bully others, themselves. It’s not true of all children, but it’s true of enough of them that Fairfax County Public Schools wants to do something about it.
Last year, a committee of counselors and administrators from all schools in the Chantilly Pyramid — plus one parent with children bullied at all three levels — created a vision for its response to address and eventually eradicate this problem. The theme was “Stand by Me,” emphasizing support for the person being bullied, and it’ll be this year’s theme, too.
Now, though, this initiative has been expanded to all Cluster VII schools, including 24 elementary, middle and high schools — encompassing some 25,000 students, plus a larger committee — in the Chantilly, Centreville and Fairfax High pyramids. Heading the effort is Lees Corner Elementary Principal Bob D’Amato.
“We thought it would be more powerful if all of Cluster VII had the same message and we could consolidate our thinking and pool our resources,” he said. “It also provides us with more ideas and heightened awareness.”
So, for example, said Lees Corner counselor Rachel DiBartolo, “As one of us comes across a powerful book or video [on this subject], we share it with the others.” And in all schools nationwide, Bullying Awareness Week is Nov. 18-22.
The Scene at Centre Ridge Elementary
In the Centreville pyramid, Centre Ridge Elementary will also have anti-bullying theme days and activities, next week.
Monday: “United We Stand,” Students wear red, white and blue and make a pledge not to be bullies; teachers wear Cluster VII anti-bullying T-shirts.
Tuesday: “Team Up Together,” Students and teachers wear team jerseys and PE classes do team-building activities.
Wednesday: “Promote Peace,” Each grade level will wear specific colors of clothing or tie-dyed items, and students will make peace-themed art projects.
Thursday: “Be a Hero,” Teachers and students dress up like superheroes and each class will perform a random act of kindness.
Friday: “Stand By Me,” Students and teachers wear Centre Ridge shirts or the school colors of blue and yellow, and music classes will learn the song, “Stand By Me.”
That first day, each school will begin the conversation around the definition of bullying. All staff members, including custodians, cafeteria workers and bus drivers, will wear special T-shirts reflecting their pyramid’s high-school colors and bearing the words, “No bullying.”
They’ll also wear wristbands with the words, “Stand by Me,” as will the students. In addition, said DiBartolo, “We’ll pick one Friday each quarter when we’ll wear the T-shirts again, and we’ll wear the wristbands at all times.”
“We can’t fund T-shirts for all the kids, but we ask them to wear shirts in their high school’s colors,” said D’Amato. “But Cluster VII funded and ordered 31,000 wristbands in purple for the Chantilly Pyramid, navy for the Fairfax Pyramid and black for the Centreville Pyramid.”
Counselors are planning their own schools’ activities for that week, with information about them written on their marquees. Parents will be apprised of what’s planned via the schools’ keep-in-touch messages.
“At Lees Corner, we’ll have an all-school assembly, and some fifth- and sixth-graders will read their essays on how to stand up for each other or what ‘stand by me’ means,” said DiBartolo. “And the chorus will sing a related song, probably ‘Stand by Me.’”
“We’ll also speak about the definition of bullying, including physical, verbal or cyberbullying,” said D’Amato. Cluster VII definies a bully as “someone who repeatedly uses words or actions to intentionally cause physical or emotional harm to another person. It typically involves an imbalance of power, too.”
During the week, students will learn how to handle themselves if faced with a bullying situation and how bystanders can help someone being bullied. They’ll be encouraged to be a friend by sitting with someone different in their class at lunch. They’ll wear their shirts backwards to symbolize the fact that they’ve got each other’s backs. And they’ll learn peaceful ways to solve problems.
Students will also take a pledge stating: “I will not bully others; I will stand up to help others being bullied; I will report bullying to an adult; if I see something, I will say something; I know sticking up for someone is the right thing to do. I will stand by you; in return, I hope you will stand by me.”
Afterwards, they’ll receive the wristbands. And the written pledge will be displayed on banners in each school surrounded by paper footprints bearing each student’s name. Said D’Amato: “The feet will also go down the hallways and touch in some way to remind everyone of the pledge.”
“We do lessons in September and October on bullying awareness, so this is a culmination of what they’ve learned,” said DiBartolo.
D’Amato also noted that, after last year’s anti-bullying efforts, bullying reports in the Chantilly Pyramid declined because the children and community realized what bullying was and chose not to do it. “We brought it to the surface so that it was OK for students who’d been bullied to talk to counselors, administrators and teachers about it,” he said.
Eventually, said Toni Jeffries, who heads Lees Corner’s Positive Behavior Intervention and Support Team, “Students can tell us three ways they can deal with bullying. We also do lessons with them about cyberbullying, which can be a bigger issue than face-to-face bullying.”
Lees Corner also has a student TAP (Technology and Positive Behavior) team. “Fifth- and sixth-graders use technology to create video and posters about both bullying and cyberbullying and ways to handle them as a bystander or a recipient,” said Jeffries. “Students also present [anti-bullying] lessons to their peers in the classroom. And data received from surveys done at the older grade levels becomes part of the school-improvement plan.”
At grades two and below, teachers just check to see how much the students understand about the topic. But, said DiBartolo, “The upper grades write what a bystander is, what bullying is and [give] ways to handle it.”
If a student’s being bullied, said counselor Jennie Anderson, he or she is advised to “stop, walk and talk — tell the bully to stop; if that doesn’t work, walk away and talk to a trusted adult.”
Regarding cyberbullying, Jeffries said, “We tell students to save the information on the screen, do not respond and tell an adult.”
“We’ll also do role-playing and thinking about different ways to respond,” said DiBartolo. “And we’re pushing the bystander concept — telling kids seeing the bullying that it’s their responsibility to either step in and try to stop it, or go get an adult.”
“And they get recognition for doing a positive thing,” said Jeffries. “We emphasize respect, responsibility and kindness in our Positive Behavior program.”
“It’s just a huge issue right now,” added D’Amato. “And we’ve had a remarkable amount of kids at all grade levels stepping up and stopping bullying. It’s so important to prevent bullying from occurring. This will be ongoing; our ultimate goal is to reduce the amount of bullying and increase awareness.”
He said Cluster VII Superintendent Linda Burke and her director, Eric McCann, fully support these efforts. And, added DiBartolo, besides empowering students to handle potential bullying situations, “As adults they’ll be good role models for their kids, too.”