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Cottonwood Holladay Journal

Bullying awareness classes at Bonneville Jr. High seek to prevent and combat bullying

Oct 01, 2018 11:49AM ● By Jana Klopsch

Student body officers at Bonneville Jr. High hold posters showing skills to help prevent and combat bullying. L to R: Talmage Winward, Maya Widdison, Logan Hunick, Spencer Linthorst. (Heather Lawrence/City Journals)

By Heather Lawrence | heather.lawrence@mycityjournals.com

Bonneville Jr. High eighth-graders took part in a bullying awareness lesson during health class at the beginning of the school year. The program is part of a district-wide curriculum aimed at arming students with the skills to stop bullying.

As the saying goes, no one likes a bully. But the power imbalances, bad examples and insecurities that create bullies are a constant in society. They get their share of the spotlight in books and on screens. And whether you’re from the “Breakfast Club” generation, the “Mean Girls” generation or the “13 Reasons Why” cyberbullying generation, one place where bullying tends to show up the most is in school. Granite School District wants to be proactive at teaching their students to combat it. 

Paul Edmonds, LCSW, is a former social worker who for the last six years has worked at the district level ensuring there is curriculum and programs in place to keep kids safe. “The stories about cyberbullying in this generation are not media hype. They are very real. Our bullying awareness presentation has been in place for 13 years. It is a required part of the Utah State Office of Education curriculum. And schools are able to tailor it to meet their needs,” Edmonds said.

Materials created at the district level and distributed to students at Bonneville and other schools define bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.”

The curriculum is taught as a “Skill of the Month” in eighth-grade health classes. Prevention specialists from Edmonds’ office come to the school to teach this topic. Health teachers remain in class and are encouraged to apply the information throughout the year during other lessons. “The great thing about this presentation is that it opens the conversation. The dialogue starts between students and teachers,” Edmonds said. 

Principal Rocky Lambourne says he’s not naïve about the realities of bullying, but sincerely believes it’s an issue they are successfully addressing at Bonneville. “We approach it from the angle of social and emotional learning. Teenagers’ brains are still developing. They’re learning to socialize. They’re exploring language and the power of language. We’re giving them tools to prevent it from ever happening,” Lambourne said. 

Lambourne knows his students are online and that things can get out of hand. The social media his students use most are “old-fashioned” texting, Twitter and apps like Snapchat and Instagram. But it doesn’t all happen online. Bullying in person is still an issue. That’s where the campaign to be an ally comes is. Posters around the school reinforce the idea that if you see something, say something. Don’t just stand by.  

Ben Horsley, communications and community outreach director for Granite School District, agreed. “Bullying is always part of the message that we want to get out. Though we can’t control what students do when they leave the building, if what happens online with another student impacts the learning environment, we get involved. Many students are surprised to learn that there are consequences to online bullying,” Horsley said. 

One thing the class teaches is that there are options for students who see or experience bullying. They can talk to a trusted teacher who acts as an advocate and will pass information on to the appropriate people. And Bonneville has a Buddy Box, in both physical form and online. Students who want to report things can do so by putting a note in the Buddy Box. 

The district also encourages using a free downloadable app created by University of Utah Health called SafeUT. Available on the Apple App Store and also Google Play, this connects anyone in need to a professional crisis counselor, 24/7/365. Students (and anyone else) can use the app to chat with a counselor, submit an anonymous safety tip about their school or start a call with a counselor. Students and parents are encouraged to download the app and use it whenever they are aware of a safety threat, including, but not limited to, bullying. 

What matters most is that bullying awareness is working for the students. Happily, the student body officers at Bonneville Jr. High feel that it is. “A lot of times people are just joking around, and at school it can escalate. But I see less (bullying) this year than last year,” said eighth-grader Logan Hunick. 

“It really isn’t a problem that I can see,” said Maya Widdison, another student body officer.  Talmage Winward and Spencer Linthorst agreed. Two of the four students completed the bullying awareness class in September. They were proud to say that their school is working toward preventing bullying. The curriculum aims to give them the skills and language to do it. 

Still, parents are asked to remember that administrators and teachers can only do so much. Parent involvement is key, whether it’s having a conversation with your child or setting an example. “Schools can’t do it alone,” Horsley said. “If parents set a bad example at home, it undoes everything we’ve taught here. So maybe parents should be more careful of what they say about people while they’re driving. They should be aware of their language and their actions. If the community isn’t involved, we will fail combating this societal problem.”