Webster School District Prepares for New Anti-Bullying Law

Bullying - it's an age old problem that lately has had devastating consequences. This year New York is rolling out a plan, the Dignity for All Students Act is supposed to help schools stop bullying and other forms of harassment.

The Webster Central School District like many others in new york has already taken steps to fight bullying.

Last month the district allowed us to sit in on one of the trainings their staff goes through as they prepare to fight bullying on the front lines.

"Kids are not getting along with one another and using all kinds of means to deal with that," school social worker Paula Busch said. "Whether it's bullying, or harassment, or it's drama, or conflict. It's a lot of what we see everyday."

So one day in January, when the kids weren't around. Busch and her colleagues became the students. Former teacher and now independent consultant Katy Allen taught them new ways to prevent bullying

Her presentation, the Damage of Drama is designed to help school counselors, psychologists and social workers prepare for the states new anti-bullying law.

"I kind of see my role as bridging the world of resource to the real world of teachers," Allen said. 

In July, all districts must comply with the Dignity for All Students Act. It requires schools to train employees on how to spot and prevent discrimination and harassment and track reports of bullying.

Webster already has anti-bulling programs in place.

"That's really our goal is to start as young as possible and develop those empathy skills," Janine Sanger, Webster's Coordinator of Prevention said. "Skills to stand up for other kids."
Allen is helping Webster build onto that work.

She trains school employees to spot different types of conflict including bullying, harassment and drama. She said it's often a precursor to bullying.

"Kids, when I talked to them in my interviews and focus groups when I talked to them about bullying, they didn't have much to say about bullying," she said. "But could they ever talk about drama. Drama is a social interaction characterized by overreaction, excessive emotionality, prolongation. Involvement of extraneous individuals and inflated relevance."

District employees broke up into small groups and role-played.

Some were the bullied. Others, the aggressors. The role playing made their colleagues laughed but the realistic scenarios taught  the educators how to empower students, to step in and stand up to bullies.

"I like the notion of improving kids empathy," school counselor Susan Stacy said. "That if you can improve their empathy it can change their behavior. So, that's one of the things I'm going to walk away with today."

All of the ideas presented were backed by research. Now new tools Webster counselors will take back to their schools.

They may not be able to prevent all bullying, but the district hopes new training will help stop the worst forms of harassment from sneaking into their hallways.

So, when the final bell rings kids can focus on books not bullies.

Click here for more information about the Dignity for All Students Act.

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