MICHIGAN — We hope you’ve noticed over the past year that we’ve been focusing on bullying and cyberbullying, a confounding national crisis that turns youths’ lives upside down with unimaginable angst and dread, sometimes with deadly consequences. With each story, we’ve heard poignant stories from Patch readers in Michigan and others who were bullied and overcame it, but also many who continue to struggle with the damage done by bullies to their self-esteem.

Many common threads emerged in emails from our readers: Teachers and other educators have suggested everything from first-period decompression time to classroom contracts with students on how they’re expected to treat one another. But for all the readers who said schools need to do more to foster an anti-bullying culture, as many said parents should talk more with their kids about bullying and keep closer track on their social media habits.

And in a loud chorus, they said Americans need to stop wringing their hands and work at all levels to create a world safe from bullying.

That’s one of the purposes of National Bullying Prevention Month, observed annually during October to bring attention to the problem and involve people in Michigan and nationwide in a conversation on how to create a world safe from bullying.

Bullying Prevention Strategies Around Metro Detroit
Bullying is a tough topic and its one schools leaders all around metro Detroit must grapple with.

If you ask Dr. Steve Matthews, the Novi Community School District Superintendent, he’ll tell you that school leaders play an important role in bullying prevention because it’s their responsibility to create a “safe, engaging learning environment” for students, he told Patch.

“If we tolerate or accept bullying then our students do not feel safe, focus less on their school work, and ultimately will disengage from the school,” Matthews said. “Our responsibility is to ensure that we create a culture that will not tolerate bullying and actively works to create an inclusive supportive environment for all students.”

In Novi’s schools, bullying is emphasized at the middle school, school officials said.

In some districts, the prevention is emphasized as early as the elementary level. That’s the case in Royal Oak Schools, where Jane Flarity-Gram, works as the Director of Special Education and also oversees PBIS for the district (Positive behavioral interventions and supports, “a schoolwide approach to make schools safer and improve student behavior).

Flarity-Gram told Patch that bullying prevention is built into instruction because social and emotional factors are so embedded into learning.

“Within the PBIS Program, bully prevention is embedded in the guiding principles and lesson planning for schools,” she said. “There is a District Wide Committee that meets 4-5 times per year with representation from every building.”

Teaching students to be kind to one another is at the center of the model at elementary schools across Royal Oak.

Every elementary building has a “Buddy Bench” on the playground, a designated space where a student can sit when feeling lonely. The idea is that their peers will recognize someone is feeling left out and join them and invite them to talk or play.

At the elementary level they have also established “Family Circles,” made up of 25 students from grades K-5. Every teacher is assigned a Family Circle and they stay together for their elementary career, with incoming kindergarteners joining their family each fall, Flarity-Gram explained.

Family circles meet approximately 10 times a year during the school day.

“During their time together, every teacher presents a lesson plan focusing on a character trait to encourage kindness, respect, responsibility, trustworthiness,” she said. “Lesson plans are designed to empower students to speak up for what is respectful and identify situations where students are not treated in a safe, kind, respectful manner.

Within these Family circles, several thinking routines are utilized, Flarity-Gram explained. For example, Step Inside is a thinking routine where the students assume what it would be like for an individual and step inside a situation to imagine what they would feel like.

Strategies like this have been most effective with teaching bullying prevention, she added.

And the lessons in Royal Oak don’t stop there. Secondary buildings also have bully prevention embedded in their PBIS and Character education programs, Flarity-Gram said. Royal Oak Middle School and Royal Oak High School both have a strong peer-to-peer programs, she said, and it makes for a connected school body, she explained.

“These are student leaders who we pair with students that have learning or behavioral challenges,” she said. “Through this program, student leaders teach their peers about disabilities and empower one another to be supportive and look out for each other. Most important, our students with disabilities feel connected to their school community.”

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