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Cedar Ridge Middle School seventh-grader Tyler Sherwood studies 'The 7 Habits of High Effective Teens,' a book that stresses responsibility, consequences and understanding of other people. The school's '7 Habits' program is seen as a weapon in the fight against bullying.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Cedar Ridge Middle School seventh-grader Tyler Sherwood studies "The 7 Habits of High Effective Teens," a book that stresses responsibility, consequences and understanding of other people. The school's "7 Habits" program is seen as a weapon in the fight against bullying.

Taking a bite
out of bullying

Decatur educators place
emphasis on stopping action

By Bayne Hughes 340-2432

J.D. Linch takes Brielle Mayer's book and slips it to Nick Jones, and the two laugh at Mayer when she can't find the book. Jeffrey Hunkapillar sees the action and demands that Jones return the book.

Later, Mayer pulls a chair from under Linch as he sits and he falls on the floor. Luckily, he isn't hurt but Jones and Mayer laugh. Again, it's Hunkapillar demanding the two apologize.

These seventh-graders did a role-playing exercise in Cedar Ridge Ridge Middle School teacher Karen Warren's class as an example of how subtle bullying can be.

Three different surveys that included students, parents, teachers and the community said bullying is a problem in Decatur City Schools, particularly in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades. So this year school officials are emphasizing stopping these acts of hurting or intimidating others.

Phil Hastings, supervisor of Safety and Alternative Education, spoke on bullying to the Brookhaven, Cedar Ridge and Oak Park middle school faculty meetings this month.

Hastings told the Brookhaven staff that the school system had more than 260 reported incidents of bullying, which often fall under the discipline report categories of fighting, harassment, sexual harassment, threats and intentional touching.

While most of the categories that fall in the discipline report are easily recognizable, Hastings said, bullying is often subtle.

Examples of subtle bullying include giving dirty looks, taking small items from someone and passively not including someone in a group.

"Boys tend to be more physical and aggressive," Hastings said. "Girls can be awful with emotional and social bullying, particularly when it comes to rumors and ostracizing others."

Ostracization is often a major complaint in middle school as young teens try to decide their place. Hastings said it's often mentioned as a reason for suicide or the threat of suicide. It was the motive behind highly publicized shootings in Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi.

Hastings said bullying at school usually occurs in halls, restrooms, dressing rooms,
on the playground or bus, during physical education class and outside before and after school.

"These are areas that we identified as places in which we need to increase supervision," Hastings said.

He said bullying occurs in elementary school, escalates in middle school — peaking in seventh grade — and then drops in 10th grade as students mature and focus on graduating.

Middle schools

The middle schools are implementing several programs to curb bullying. Physical education and health teachers are including bullying in their violence and drug awareness curriculum, "Get Real about Violence."

The Mental Health Association in Morgan County got a $35,000 grant from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs to start the program "Bully-proofing Your School." Hastings said the grant would provide materials and pay for the association to hire a person to conduct prevention education at the three middle schools.

Cedar Ridge and Brookhaven are implementing the "The 7 Habits for a Highly Successful Person" program. Chestnut Grove Elementary began this business management program in 2005 because it teaches responsibility, thinking about the consequences and consideration and understanding of other people's ideas. Other schools adopted the program, including Woodmeade Elementary.

Donnie Lane of EnnerSolv Corp. gave Cedar Ridge $10,000 to pay for the 7 Habits program.

Warren said 7 Habits helps the students develop a positive self concept while giving them a good foundation in personal ethics. Looking for "win-win situations" is one of the seven habits.

"They learn that they have the responsibility to make the right choices, good choices," Warren said.

Self control

The students learn self control, which the educators hope will keep them from engaging in bullying. Brookhaven Principal Larry Collier said the students also learn that it's their responsibility to stop or report bullying, whether they see it happening or they're getting bullied, something that's contrary to unspoken student code against snitching.

Principal Dwight Satterfield said Oak Park is using its sportsmanship program to teach students how to treat other people and what's acceptable behavior. The school's new student-run "Raider News Network," an in-house television show, is addressing bullying in daily segments on its morning show.

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