Barbara Turner, director of student services for the Dougherty County School System, speaks to students during a bullying summit held Wednesday morning at the Isabella Complex on Cason Street. The summit gave area high school students a chance to discuss the issue of bullying with their elders.
ALBANY, Ga. — Whether they have been bullying victims themselves or have been put in the position of having to stop it, there were several voices recently aiming to give a perspective on the topic that is not always heard.
A bullying summit held at the Isabella Complex in East Albany on Wednesday gave students, primarily student leaders, an opportunity to give their take on how bullying can be combated within the Dougherty County School System.
Present were students from each of the high schools within DCSS, who addressed the issue of bullying in front of school administrators, parents, law enforcement and elected officials so adults could be put into the seats of the students while those closer to the front lines took the lead in discussions on the issue.
Some of the input from students suggested that teachers are not involved enough in enforcing the anti-bullying policy, even when they appear to witness an incident happening. There was also a suggestion from another student of helping to build up the self-esteem of bullying victims to give them the courage to put a stop to it themselves.
“We are hearing that students are feeling that faculty aren’t responding to their needs,” said Barbara Turner, director of student services for DCSS, roughly an hour into the summit. “Students can’t assume that they (teachers) are aware. It has to be reported in order for action to take place.
“Years ago, it (bullying) was just name-calling. Now it has escalated.”
Robert Hudson, now a sophomore at Westover High School, told of the physical bullying he suffered while at Robert Cross Middle Magnet School.
“I was harassed, picked on and beaten up. I got my head smashed against a locker,” he said. “I had enough, so I told someone (and stood up to them).
“I loved going to school (afterward) knowing I wouldn’t be bullied. A lot of stress was relieved off.”
From that perspective, he emphasized the importance of seeking help.
“Nobody will judge you for being bullied,” the 10th-grader said. “If word gets out, good, because maybe folks will know that person is bad.”
Generally, once an incident is reported within the system, an investigation is conducted by the school’s administration. At that point, everyone involved is brought to the table — including school police — to combat the problem, officials with DCSS say.
“(A bullying investigation) might end in criminal charges. It is all based on the situation, but it must be reported,” Turner said to the students and parents present.
“You have support. You can tell somebody. We have to eliminate the cause. We have to get to the roots.”
Administrators noted that there is something known as a “bully box” in each of the schools, usually located at a campus’ front office or media center, where incidents can be reported discreetly.
Overall, officials believe they got valuable input from the summit.
“The students are being upfront and frank with us,” Turner said. “That’s a good thing. We need to know the truth.”
Eddie McBride, project coordinator with Phoebe Network of Trust, was also present to give an update on Rachel’s Challenge — which was implemented at DCSS, and surrounding schools in the area, last year as part of an effort to promote kindness and compassion.
As part of the program, students have been asked to build paper chains to represent random acts of kindness. McBride said that the chain the system is working on now is almost 14 miles long, with the goal of getting it to 29 miles by the end of the school year.
To help with that, the schools will be conducting “The 12 Days of Kindness” in December, during which time the system’s campuses are endeavoring to focus on positive thoughts.
“This is all about creating positive (atmospheres) in schools,” McBride said. “(Bullying) can affect grades and all kinds of stuff. It messes with self-esteem.
“The task groups (within the area’s schools) are really taking Rachel’s Challenge to heart. The schools are taking it and running with it.”
The student leaders were expected to go back from Wednesday’s summit and devise a plan for addressing the problem, which will include conducting similar programs at their respective high schools as well as their feeder middle schools, Turner said.