At last week's school board meeting, West Deptford Superintendent Kevin Kitchenman unveiled a safety plan for West Deptford Middle School as required by the state of New Jersey's revised HIB (harassment, intimidation and bullying) laws.
While the district was not happy to see the middle school put on a warning list due to the amount of HIB incidents last year, the administration is using it as an opportunity to better educate the students on bullying. One of the ways they do this is with the Week of Respect.
The Week of Respect, which started Monday and runs through Friday, is a time in which the students from across the school district participate in events that teach them about the dangers of bullying and how to prevent it. Kristin O'Neil, the school district's director for curriculum and instruction as well as the district's anti-bullying coordinator, says that education is crucial with children from an early age.
“The Bullying Bill of Rights is about education and prevention,” she said. “It's not about punishment and consequence. So throughout the entire week we try to teach the students through these messages.”
Educating the students in elementary school is crucial according to O'Neil. Bullying occurs at every level of school, from kindergarten through high school, so the district is hoping to make headway with the students when they are young, prompting better decisions in middle school and high school, when the social dynamic becomes evermore complicated.
At Green-Fields Elementary School, the students are participating in the Green-Fields Olympic Games of Respect. The event is designed to teach students about how to better respect themselves, others and the environment.
The main goal for this year's Week of Respect is to not only discourage students from bullying, but also encourage students to stand up for those that are being bullied.
“We want to educated the bystanders to stand up to the bullies, and also educate the bully and target as well,” said O'Neil.
Events at the middle school and high school were omnipresent as well. O'Neil noted that bullying doesn't stop at any grade level, that occurs all the way up to 12th grade, making education important for all ages.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the students at the middle school and high school got to see a presentation by John Halligan. In 2003, his son, Ryan, was bullied both in his Vermont middle school and online, eventually leading Ryan to kill himself. Since then, Halligan spoken to students about Ryan's story and ways to prevent a similar crisis at their own school.
The West Deptford School District has particularly took a very aggressive approach to following the new HIB laws that were enacted last school year. O'Neil said that the school district is always looking for ways to reduce the number of bullying instances in their schools.
“We've always had character education and positive support in schools prior to the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights,” said O'Neil. “But since the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, we've been extremely aggressive, in terms of getting the message out to parents, getting the message out kids, and really trying to be proactive.”
Visit the West Deptford school district's website for more information on their anti-bullying policy as well as the Week of Respect. Check back in with Patch on Thursday for a full article on the Ryan's Story presentation from Tuesday and Wednesday.