Special Report: Battling the New-Age Bully
TWO HARBORS – The issue of bullying has reached an all-time high, with one in four teens getting bullied.
As it becomes more of a problem in schools, local districts are adopting newer more creative ways to stomp it out.
Two Harbors Public Schools recently got a visit from national bullying expert Jim Jelinske.
After that experience, administrators, and even students have taken his lead looking to battle the new-age bully.
If you step inside the halls of Two Harbors High School, you're bound to find a bully.
"Every school is dealing with this," said Vice Principal Jay Belcastro.
It's the harsh reality Belcastro says the district is not ignoring.
"It's hard to sweep something under the carpet when you have people in here that have been emotionally strained by what people have said or done," he said.
So the district is tackling it head-on, looking to create a new mindset, starting with the simple idea of respect.
"It's our responsibility to be good people, and I bet I shared that message at least 15 times today," Belcastro smiled.
That message is something students are also pushing.
"What needs to happen is a change in thinking and a change in mentality from 'bullying's funny' to 'bullying's bad,'" said Dan O'Neil, organizer of an anti-bullying campaign.
Change is happening right inside the classroom, where DECA students are organizing their "See it, Say it, Stop it" anti-bullying campaign.
"Our goal is a couple years down the line when we come back here, and we walk through the halls, we see less bullying," O'Neil said.
They're asking their peers to sign a pledge against bullying and will hang them in the hallways as a constant reminder.
"Everyone knows about it. Everyone knows it's a problem," he said.
"Of course we would all like to think it's not a problem, but you really have to face reality and know that it does happen at our schools," said Christy Peterson, third grade teacher at Minnehaha Elementary School in Two Harbors.
Even at the elementary level, teachers are giving lessons in bullying, but are going about it a different way.
Instead, they're focusing on good behavior with their Stepping Up program, which rewards students for acts of kindness.
"The biggest thing we're doing is getting everybody in the same language, understanding what it is; doing the education piece of it," said Rachel Howard, a counselor at Minnehaha Elementary School.
The feedback she's gotten so far has been very positive. "I ask each student individually, 'do you see a difference?' and every student has told me they have," Howard said.
One thing all administrators can agree on is that the education starts at home.
"Kinda like how a tripod holds the camera. You need three legs. We're only one of the three. If we don't have solid parent support, whatever it is falls over," Belcastro said.
"All our leaders and adults have to model that behavior. And I think if we do that, and confront those behaviors, and have high expectations for everyone, I think it will get better," Howard said.
It's a practice-makes-perfect process, beginning with an open and accepting mind.
"How can you walk back into those hallways, back into our locker B, and back into our classrooms as a changed agent? And if you can do that, we're gonna start to solve this maybe one student at a time," Belcastro said.
DECA students plan on passing out 1,000 bracelets with the campaign's slogan on them, in addition to students signing the pledge, to serve as a constant reminder not to bully.