Bullying is happening in schools. It's happening in hallways and cafeterias, and on buses and playgrounds.
And it takes place most often during unstructured times such as recess, lunchtime and late-night cyberspace, according to data gathered by the Katonah Lewisboro Bullying Prevention Task Force this year.
The task force, composed of teachers, administrators and parents, was created in 2008-09 and charged with the goal of understanding the nature and extent of bullying, as well as the district's ability to prevent it and intervene, said Dr. Christopher Griffin, director of guidance at John Jay High School and chair of the committee.
Survey methodology included a voluntary online questionnaire, and focus groups with fifth graders, middle and high schoolers, faculty and staff. For fifth graders, permission slips were obtained and surveys were administered in the classroom.
702 students responded, according to Griffin. While they did not generalize those results to the larger student population, the focus groups helped to make results more meaningful.
How are students bullied? They're teased, excluded and made to be victims of unwarranted rumors—all forms of emotional aggression, said Griffin, which seemed to be more prevalent than physical forms of bullying, though those were reported.
High schoolers said that the popular kids often ignore and isolate other students. "They feel as if they don't want to challenge the "power" group—this marginalization becomes a form of bullying," he said.
The most frequently reported places for bullying were areas that have minimal supervision—or at most, a monitor. High school boys also reported locker room harrassment, and girls were more likely to report online bullying.
Student survey results did not point to cyber-bullying as a big issue, but face-to-face conversations revealed that students do feel it is a new and pervasive problem. And the assistant principals agreed almost unanimously that online harassment is becoming a problem in the district.
"Some student dread coming into school in the morning, knowing what's taken place online the night before. On Facebook and other sites where kids can become anonymous, comments become more acerbic, even sexual," said Griffin.
Why are kids bullied? And why do they bully?
"Because of differences in the way they look, or behave," said Griffin. On this point, the staff surveyed—those in clerical, custodial, and monitor roles—reported experiencing bullying themselves.
Overwhelmingly, the students who bully others said they do it because they think it's funny or cool, while the adults reported that students want attention and they want to look powerful.
Anyone can be a bully, said Griffin. "For example, the elementary students said that the bullies are the students who are doing well in school, and they're harrassing those who are challenged in learning."
What do kids want to do about it? Regardless of grade or gender, students said they rarely ask for help from an adult, fearing the situation will worsen. But kids did ask for adults to use discipline and control in school to manage bullying behavoir, said Griffin.
"They said, again and again, tell us how to deal with bullies. They want to be empowered—they have a hard time taking the risk to intervene when they could be the next victim," he observed.
Survey respondents think bullying is a part of growing up. But they also recognize that it's hurtful, and it can impact self-esteem and achievement in school—an opportunity for education and growth, said Griffin.
The next steps for the task force includes the development of a parent survey, and drafting a bullying prevention policy, accompanied by prevention and awareness programming for students and staff.
Board member Janet Harckham suggested examining familial connections as they relate to bullying. "If you have a sibling, you've been bullied. Some kids come in with the understanding that it hurts—how do we take a kid that comes in for kindergarten, having no older siblings, and help them understand sarcasm and acerbic wit," she said.
"What about turning the computers off?" asked board member Peter Treyz, suggesting the district encourage a reduction in screen time as a way to stop cyber-bullying. Griffin responded that students were so engaged with technology that a better strategy would be to teach them how to use it responsibly.
Board of education candidate Ken Aufsesser felt that the task force was a step in the right direction, but it hadn't gone far enough.
"Two years ago, when Darfur made international headlines, my eighth-grade son never any academic discussion about it," he said. "We need to teach them to revile bullying on a small level, and show them bullying on an international level. We are not doing the whole job until we make it relevant."