Duplessis Primary addresses bullying issues

Charlotte Guedry
Duplessis Primary Guidance Counselor Dr. Vanessa Bowles is joined by some of her Patriot Peacemakers who are working to stop bullying at Duplessis Primary School.

Local and national media have been inundated with stories of bullying recently. There are images of children “happy slapping” other people, kids being set on fire after being humiliated in front of their peer groups, or cases where children commit suicide, just to escape the torment of a bully.

Gone are the days of the image of a child being a bully on the school playground, or behind the school houses. Today, bullying takes on many different forms, and they’re not always so easy to spot.

Cyber bullying, sexting, relational aggression, peer-to-peer aggression, exclusion and others are all new terms for a problem that has existed for decades.

Some of these new forms of bullying allow for the bully to remain somewhat anonymous. This is a worry for many parents and schools. According to greatschools.com, the CIA recently reported that two-thirds of recent school shooting incidents throughout the United States were committed by children who had experienced severe bullying by their classmates. If parents can’t see these new signs of bullying, then how do they know what to look for?

The Stop Bullying Now campaign defines bullying as “behavior that is meant to hurt another person. It is often carried out by someone who has more power against someone who has less power.” Essentially, bullying is any form of mean or cruel behavior against someone.

Web sites like youtube are highlighting bullying acts by showing filmed footage of child on child aggression. Children are watching these videos, and unfortunately they are sometimes do so solely for the amusement or entertainment of the footage. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter allow for some sense of anonymity for bullies. Children can create fake accounts with false names and profiles. They can virtually say what they want with little repercussions.

The problem exists, even in Ascension Parish, and the question remains, how do we fix it?

Guidance Counselor Dr. Vanessa Bowles at Duplessis Primary School is working with a group of students at the school to devise ways to work against bullying.

Bowles and fellow staff at Duplessis Primary began noticing problems within certain groups at the school. They felt the time had come to do something about it.

“We looked at combined data, and found that our 5th grade students were having some real issues, both as bullies and as the bullied,” she said. “Cyber bullying was a real problem. Children all have cell phones, Facebook accounts, and Twitter pages now. They were abusing them.”

The school began to combat the problem by asking Bowles to lead presentations and guidance lessons to the 5th graders.

“I began with showing them a film called ‘Olivia’s Letters.’ You could see a real reaction in the children,” she said.

‘Olivia’s Letters’ has become something of a learning tool for many educators, both nationally and internationally. It is the true story of a sixth grade girl named Olivia Gardner. She had been diagnosed with epilepsy, and found it difficult to always keep it under control at school. On a daily basis, she was called a ‘retard’ by her fellow students. Some children went as far as creating a MySpace page called ‘Olivia Haters.” They used the page as an open forum for making disparaging and cruel remarks. Although the school district attempted to work with the bullies to put an end to the abuse, Olivia was tormented by her peers so awfully, that she transferred schools three times, and the bullying still did not end. At one of the schools, there was even so much hatred for the girl, that anti-Olivia bracelets were created.

Two teenage girls, Emily and Sarah Buder, heard about the torment, and began a letter writing campaign. They wrote to support Olivia, and the words she received offered support. Children told of their own struggles with bullying. The success of the letter writing  has now been turned into an official program through the National Bullying Prevention Association.

“We decided as a group to organize something similar within our own school,” said Bowles. “The children wanted to be a part of doing something good, rather than dismissing the problem.”

The school began a letter writing campaign of its own. Some members of the school’s Beta Club formed the Patriot Peacemakers, a group designed to assist with working against bullying in the school.

“The 5th graders wrote letters which are kept on file. Sometimes they are anonymous, and sometimes they aren’t. The objective was to get the children to open up, and be there for others who need help or reassurance,” said Bowles.

When a student feels antagonized, hurt, or threatened at the school, they receive one of the letters. They read words by someone who may have been in their shoes, or can offer advice for what steps to take.

“Basically, our kids have the power to make a difference. If they do nothing, they give up that power,” said Bowles.

Bowles also stated that the Patriot Peacemakers program is working, and numbers are down in bullying complaints. “We all have to empower bystanders to have real power. These kids are helping each other, and the impact is showing at our school,” she said.

To find out more of what the parish is doing to combat bullying in schools, or what to look for if your child is being bullied, pick up next Tuesday’s Gonzales Weekly Citizen for a continuation of this series.