Bullying a community-wide issue
Ron Gower/TIMES NEWS Panelists in a seminar entitled "In & Beyond the Schoolyard - Addressing Bullying as a Community Issue" are, from left, Summit Hill Chief of Police Joseph Fittos Jr., Kim Mulik of the Carbon County Juvenile Probation Office, Jim Thorpe High School Principal Tom Lesisko, Lehighton Area High School teacher Cristi Marchetti, and Weatherly Area School District nurse Rebekah McFadden. The event was staged by Behavioral Health Associates.
Bullying has many ugly faces.
It can be physical, verbal, attained through social exclusion, sexual or cyber.
These various types of bullying were examined during a public seminar conducted by Behavioral Health Associates at the Packer Ridge Academy in Mahoning Township.
About 30 people attended the event titled "In & Beyond the Schoolyard Addressing Bullying as a Community Issue."
Panelists were Summit Hill Police Chief Joseph Fittos Jr., Jim Thorpe Area High School Principal Thomas Lesisko, Weatherly Area School District nurse Rebekah McFadden, Carbon County Deputy Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Kimmy Mulik, and Lehighton Area High School Safe School Ambassadors adviser Cristi Marchetti.
Dr. Helene Katz, a BHA licensed staff psychologist, gave statistics on bullying and explained the various types. She said one survey indicated 77 percent of the students said they had been bullied. Eight percent of students miss one day of class per month for fear of bullies, she added.
"More youth violence actually occurs on school grounds versus off school grounds," she said.
She cited another statistic which claims that of playground bullying, adult intervention occurs only 4 percent of the time, peer intervention happens 11 percent of the time, and there is no intervention 85 percent of the time.
Mark Marek, public relations specialist with BHA, said because of the success of the seminar, he has asked state Rep. Doyle Heffley to proclaim an "Anti-bullying Day" in Pennsylvania. He added that other informational seminars are in the process of being scheduled.
McFadden spoke on identifying the warning signs of bullying.
Being a school nurse, she said one thing which raises a red flag is when a student is very vague, such as coming to the office and merely stating they don't feel well.
She stressed that parents should communicate with the school.
"Bullying can be anything from pushing and shoving to social isolation to violence," she remarked.
Lesisko said it is often difficult for a victim of bullying to get help. He said he has heard the phrase circulated, "Snitches get stitches."
Bullying can range from shoving and kicking, to name calling, to social exclusion, to racial, to cyber, Lesisko said.
He said computers can play a major role in bullying.
"It's instantaneous. Not only the victim sees it, everyone else does, too," he said.
Lesisko said schools have become more involved in halting bullying through educational programs for staff members. He added that students and adults must be shown that "schools are a 'no bullying' zone."
Fittos told of the various types of arrests which can occur through bullying.
"Victims should never be silent," he said. "They need to talk to someone."
He said it used to be that nothing would be done to bullies.
"It was not taken as seriously as it is today," he noted.
He added that besides dealing with the traditional physical bullying, his department also investigates cyber bullying and will prosecute offenders.
Fittos added that whether the bullying occurs in school or out of school, his department will intervene.
"There is no room for bullying," he said.
Mulik said when a juvenile is brought to her after an arrest, there is an assessment done on the charges. It is recorded if there are injuries from the actions, and if there has been a previous record.
"There is no charge that says 'bullying,'" she said. "It's either aggravated assault or simple assault."
Other charges might be harassment or terroristic threats. She said juveniles who commit crimes with a weapon automatically are sentenced to either prison or another type of facility.
"Our goal is to educate these kids so they don't repeat the offense," she remarked.
She noted that often bullying is related to gangs.
Mulik said she often gets requests from parents to speak with their child.
"We are willing to do that," she said.
Marchetti was accompanied by Haley Sawyer, a junior at Lehighton Area High School who is active in Safe School Ambassadors.
"Students are pretty smart. They know when teachers are around or when administrators are around," Sawyer told the audience.
She stated how the program works, with emphasis being on student involvement.
"We, as adults, don't see and hear most of what happens. The students do," Marchetti said.
Sawyer noted that doing nothing when witnessing bullying is wrong.
"Silence is powerful. It is consent. It is saying it's OK to treat someone that way," she said.
She mentioned that the Safe School Ambassadors provide fellow students with options for helping to curb bullying.