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December 11, 2012

Stopping bullying in its tracks

Easy acronym helps students stand up for themselves, friends

By Kristyne E. Demske
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Jay Banks tells students at Greenwood Elementary School not to be afraid of bullies during an assembly Dec. 3.
Mario Mitchell, a fourth-grader at Greenwood Elementary, looks to his teacher, Laurie Brian, to let her know how much she is appreciated.
 

It’s a hot topic in education, right behind test scores and teacher accountability.

Bullying.

But four local elementary schools tackled the problem head on with a visit from a nationally renowned speaker, Dr. Jay Banks of Spring Hill, Tenn. Banks visited the Lakeview Public Schools District Dec. 3 and 4 to speak with students at the district’s elementary schools, beginning with Greenwood Elementary, and share his tips for putting an end to bullying.

Principal Diane Koenig said this is the fourth year that the school has focused on positive behavior support, which centers on teaching and training positive behaviors.

Although bullying isn’t a huge problem in the school, first-grade teacher Beth Baird said they want to be proactive and share a positive message to keep it that way.

“We want to be as positive as we can, and we want to attack it before it happens,” she said.

Banks brought a combination of researched facts and humor to his presentation, drawing the children in with tips draped in comedy.

“They always tell you you have to listen in an assembly, but they never tell you why,” Banks said, acting as if he was letting the kids in on a big secret. “Because I have a bigger head than you!” he exclaimed, as the children let loose uproarious laughter.

And even with his serious message about how to attack the problem of bullying in
school, Banks managed to keep the students hooting the entire hour, explaining that, as you learn more, your head grows and that’s why they ought to listen to him and other adults, like their teachers.

Tackling bullying is possible by empowering the victims and the bystanders, Banks said. His slogan, “I am un-A.F.R.A.ID,” embeds a message that should help students find a solution: “A” is for avoid bullies; “F” is for find a friend; “R” is for report bullying; and “A” is for act confident.

“Seventy-five percent of our bullying problems would go away if kids would just avoid them,” Banks said, telling the students about his own encounter with a bully when he was a kid.

Every day, he would head to the back of the bus, where “Bobby” would pick on him, spit on him, hit him and otherwise bully Banks while other students sat by and laughed. It wasn’t until one day, he said, “I learned the power of the “A”.

When all the seats in the back of the bus were filled, Banks said he sat in the front and realized that Bobby wouldn’t pick on him there because Bobby was still in the back.

He said he also wants students to know that they will be safe from bullies as long as they can see a teacher or another adult.

“When I know I’m going somewhere and there’s not going to be a teacher or an adult, you should find a friend,” he said, making the students promise that, “I will never, ever be in this school or my neighborhood by myself.”

Along with sharing tips with students, Banks also had information for teachers, as well, such as the fact that 64 percent of students do not report bullying: a fact he said teachers can change by making themselves available and listening to students the first time a problem is brought to them.

“We have to get it right the first time,” he said, telling the students that, “Your teachers really do care. Every one of your teachers has been bullied before. She remembers how it feel — she knows what to do.”

“A lot of children are apprehensive about … telling an adult,” said Baird. “This helps them with the message of what to do.”

And acting confident, Banks said, keeps bullies at bay.

“The student who has a positive attitude … is more likely to not be bullied,” he said.

For more information about Banks’ message, visit www.JayBanks.com.