Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bullies Not Welcome; Program Aims to Stamp out Intimidation

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bullies Not Welcome; Program Aims to Stamp out Intimidation

Article excerpt

Byline: Caren Burmeister, Shorelines staff writer

Bullying was once accepted as an unavoidable pitfall of childhood, a rite of passage that prepared children for the social realities of adulthood.

But many school officials and mental health experts, including those at the Beaches, are changing their tune since two teens killed 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado then committed suicide on April 20, 1999.

"I think Columbine sums up what happens when bullying isn't dealt with," said Penny Christian, director of the Beaches Resource Center, a facility behind Fletcher High School that links educational, medical and human services for children and their families. "It doesn't go away and it can manifest itself with violence."

Four Beaches schools recently began a bully-proofing program to teach students how to identify and handle bullying. The one-year pilot program at Mayport Elementary, Neptune Beach Elementary, Fletcher Middle and Mayport Middle schools is being funded through the Beaches Resource Center and a grant from United Way.

The bully-proofing program was founded by Cindy Funkhouser, a clinical social worker who has done extensive research in bullying and school violence, and Maryann Dyal, a retired guidance counselor with 31 years' experience in the field who worked at Alimacani Elementary School.

Alimacani adopted the bully-proofing program in 2000 and was the first school in Northeast Florida to do so. The program resulted in 58 percent reductions in discipline referrals the first year, Funkhouser said.

Bullying is non-provoked aggressive behavior against a peer that's repeated over time and creates an imbalance of power.

Some parents and teachers in Columbine, outside Denver, attributed Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold's killing spree to excessive bullying.

Almost three-quarters of the instigators in 37 cases of extreme school violence between 1974 and 2000 had felt persecuted, bullied, threatened or attacked by their peers prior to their attacks, according to a U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Secret Service study conducted after Columbine.

Bullying is an activity where the imbalance of power makes it virtually impossible for the victim to win. Certain characteristics distinguish bullying from other types of aggression, said Laura DeHaan, a psychology professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., who specializes in adolescent psychology and identity development.

Bullies' main goal is to control another child by physical or verbal aggression, DeHaan said. They do it because they can and because the victim is seen as easy prey.

While 99 percent of bullying never escalates to serious violence, the fear of bullying causes lower grades and causes absenteeism, she said.

While bullying was once accepted as part of life, exposure to violence in films, video games and the news media have changed the way our culture views it, experts said. …

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