Students from across region gather for anti-bullying conference

Philipsburg-Osceola senior Cheyenne Bone speaks to students during the conference. Bald Eagle Area High School hosted a conference called “Empowering the Student Bystander” where central Pennsylvania students attended the event to learn anti-bullying skills October 7, 2015. s
Philipsburg-Osceola senior Cheyenne Bone speaks to students during the conference. Bald Eagle Area High School hosted a conference called “Empowering the Student Bystander” where central Pennsylvania students attended the event to learn anti-bullying skills October 7, 2015. s CDT Photo

Bullying isn’t always something that happens face to face.

Curwensville Junior/Senior High School sophomore Devan Barrett said a lot of it happens though social media.

But networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can also be tools to help spread the word to his classmates about ways to stop any kind of bullying.

“Quite frankly, our school has a lot of people who are stubborn, so we need to find a way for them to hear us out when it comes to preventing bullying,” Barrett said. “I think we need to use all ways we can to spread the word.”

Barrett was one of about 120 students from public schools in Centre, Clearfield and Clinton counties who were invited to a daylong anti-bullying conference at Bald Eagle Area Middle/Senior High School.

Representatives from Central Intermediate Unit No. 10, which oversees schools in the three counties, organized the event that focused on the power of being a bystander.

Sponsored by the Pennsylvania Masonic Youth Foundation, students attended an assembly, and participated in interactive activities to help identify bullying and how to intervene in a way that doesn’t damage reputations.

Middle school students participated in improvised roleplaying, while high school students created action plans to target bullying.

“The goal was to form workshops to discuss ideas, identify bullying and ways to approach it,” said keynote speaker Deb McCoy. “The most effective way is by peers intervening. We encourage them to make a conscious choice to intervene.”

Ways to do that, McCoy said, are by reasoning with the alleged bully, offering a subtle distraction that can interrupt someone who is bullying another person, and to get help.

BEA senior Josh Fye said he doesn’t see a lot of bullying at the high school but steps up when he can if students are fighting.

“There are a lot of different stages of bullying and you have to approach each situation differently,” Fye, 18, said. “You want to try to stop it, but other kids might think it’s not their place to get involved.”

Principal Jack Tobias said Bald Eagle Area doesn’t necessarily have a bullying problem, but it isn’t immune to the issue.

“Our approach is to help students understand their actions, rather than punish them,” Tobias said. “We ask that student to put themselves in the other person’s shoes, and we say, ‘that could be you.’ We make it a learning experience, and more times than none, we don’t have reoffenders.”

School administration also works with students’ families and encourages communication at home and in school about the situation.

The middle school offers weekly, 20-minute sessions about bullying, while the high school created a team of students from different statuses who act as the eyes, ears and voice of the student body.

Fye said their responsibility is to speak up if they see something negative going on.

Anti-bullying policies

Bald Eagle Area, like other Centre County area school districts, also has a policy in place that targets bullying.

As part of House Bill 1067, Pennsylvania schools are required to have an anti-bullying policy that meets state standards.

State College Area spokesman Chris Rosenblum said “the district takes bullying very seriously and focuses its school programs on education and prevention.”

Part of its five-page policy said, “It is the intention of the school district, consistent with state and federal law, to strive to maintain a learning environment which is free of harassment and/or bullying since the school district finds that incidents of harassment and/or bullying prevent students from receiving the education to which they are entitled, materially disrupt the mission of the school district to educate the children of the school district, substantially interfere with a student’s educational performance and foster incidents of violence.

Park Forest Middle School uses Project P.R.I.D.E as a formal anti-bullying educational program, and Mount Nittany Middle School implemented Planet Peace in 1999 — a version of their school’s anti-bullying and safety program.

The district website also offers information on ways to prevent students from bullying, warning signs of a student who is being bullied, and advice for parents of bullies and of students being bullied.

Penns Valley Area offers a link on its website for people to report bullying incidents.

At the elementary level in Bellefonte, schools promote schoolwide Positive Behavior Support, said Benner Elementary School Principal Kris Vancas.

“School counselors embrace the district-adopted resource Second Step as a means for building positive social behaviors and appropriate social interactions,” Vancas said. “Students engage in teacher and counselor-directed classroom meetings, discussions and activities that surround both the new learning as well as specific needs that arise.”

Vancas said Bellefonte Area students also participate in assemblies and celebrations that focus on review and commitment to schoolwide anti-bullying rules and behaviors carried out through school programming.

Bellefonte Area school resource officers also have been “instrumental” in providing educational opportunities regarding harassment and bullying in school, and through electronic devices and social media, Vancas said.

District elementary schools have developed a computer-based tracking system used for recording bullying-type incidents and other discipline-related behaviors, Vancas said.

“This data offers a mechanism to inform officials of commonalities that might be occurring such as incidents involving the same students or common areas that could be termed as hotspots,” Vancas said.