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Hutt schools adopt new ways to take on bullies

Aug 7th, 2008 | By | Category: Featured Article

INTERMEDIATE schools in Hutt Valley believe they know how to stop bullying – using school surveys, special staff members and a healthy school culture to make students feel safe.

One school surveys students – anonymously if the kids choose – every two years about their time at school, and feeds the responses back to their board of trustees.

They also send out information about bullying through school newsletters.

Other schools refer bullying or bullied students to school counselling services, or employ support staff to work one-on-one with kids.

All the Hutt’s intermediates give staff guidelines on dealing with bullying to help them respond consistently, and emphasise respect and social skills through assemblies, school sports and other activities.

Naenae Intermediate principal Steve Black points to last year’s school survey results, which showed 89% of parents think the school provides a “very safe environment for their kids”.

“Feeling safe is brought up at assembly. We don’t tolerate any bullying…the kids are encouraged to tell teachers,” he says.

The school makes deliberate attempts to show children from all backgrounds are welcome, reflecting the multicultural make-up of a school roll with Maori, Pakeha, Samoan, Somali and Cook Island children.

He has a Ministry of Education pamphlet, Step Up, Be Safe, available for kids, and his school also runs police programme Kia Kaha with every class.

Teachers use a handbook for managing behaviour to make sure all pupils get the same response to breaking rules.

“Kids know if they do anything wrong, there are consequences,” he says.

Hutt Intermediate principal Mike Gillatt agrees that encouraging kids to tell is important, because bullies will always try to keep it secret.

The school offers pupils the chance to remain anonymous when they fill in their school survey, which includes questions about bullying.

“It’s [bullying] not a new thing,” he says. “We’re just less tolerant of it now, and that’s a good thing. We create a school environment which doesn’t allow bullying or anti-social behaviours.”

They also publish a regular newsletter for parents with information about all kinds of bullying, as the school believes cyber-bullying may be an issue some parents are just coming to understand.

The school also insists each pupil hands in their mobile phone every morning to stop them being a distraction – or a way to text-bully.

“You can have an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, or you can have resources at the top,” says Mr Gillatt.

Avalon Intermediate principal Ian Hastie believes all schools face challenges when, with rising fuel and food prices, things are tougher for parents.

“The focus is learning, creating an environment so learning takes place,” he says. “I’d like to think the kids that come out of here will be contributing citizens.”

Avalon Intermediate employs a student support member of staff who works with any students struggling to get on with other kids.  New children with difficult histories automatically see her, but any teacher can refer a child.

The most important thing for Mr Hastie is that all children know they will be dealt with in a fair and reasonable way, and teaching programmes promote respect for all and taking responsibility in the community.

Children’s Commissioner Cindy Kiro plans to tackle bullying over the next year by asking children what kinds of things are happening to them at school, because studies reveal high levels of physical and emotional bullying in New Zealand.

All three principals welcome this, but believe they already have good monitoring mechanisms in place so they can respond well.

Mr Gillatt believes good research on bullying is the basis of Hutt Intermediate’s approach.  More information from a New Zealand-based study would be useful, but he is more interested in what will happen next, as yet unknown.

Extra assistance for schools to deal with bullying would also be welcome.

PICTURE: Naenae Intermediate School principal Steve Black with his anti-bullying guidelines.

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