Montgomery County schools have taken proactive steps to encourage cyber safety and stop bullying among students.
Administrators at North Bethesda Middle School, and said they are working to keep kids safe online and conflict-free in school.
Penny Tsonis, principal at Newport Mill Middle School, said she takes bullying very seriously, and her school has developed a Character Education program.
The program received a grant from the Center for Dispute Resolution at the University of Maryland Law Center. It began as peer-mediation training for students and eventually became school-wide lessons, according to Tim Rossini, NMMS Resource Counselor.
“We spent several half-days throughout the school year doing activities that would help students understand bullying behaviors when they see them, how the person being bullied could get help, and what bystanders should do when they see it happening,” Rossini said. “Over the course of the last seven years we have made slight changes to the original activities as well as creating new activities.... The staff at Newport Mill have been very proactive in helping plan and deliver lessons, as well as allowing the counseling departments to use every half day as a lesson on bullying day."
NMMS is taking it so seriously, in fact, this week the staff has been teaching lessons on cyberbullying for students.
There has been a statewide push to limit bullying in Maryland schools, and in October Gov. Martin O’Malley joined Facebook and Time Warner in urging parents and students to sign an anti-bullying pledge.
Last year, MCPS reported 303 incidents of bullying, and the district has since introduced a webpage about cyber safety, including hotline information, resource sheets, and videos showing the signs of bullying in students and how victims and their parents can deal with it.
North Bethesda Middle School Principal Alton E. Sumner said his school recently held assemblies in October for each grade to talk to students about Internet safety and cyberbullying.
“We brought in Assistant State’s Attorney George Simms III to be our guest presenter,” Sumner said. “He shared several video clip stories involving teenagers and Internet safety issues and discussed them with the students. He also shared how to be safe when using social networks, cellphones, etc. He will do a similar program for our parents this month.”
Sumner said the school offers students CARE lessons every month. CARE, which stands for Communication, Accountability, Respect and Environment, is an anti-bullying program developed by a committee at North Bethesda, Sumner said.
Under the program, hallways in the school have CARE-themed street names posted on signs, such as Communication Place and Accountability Avenue. When students are seen displaying these characteristics, they can earn “CARE cash,” redeemable for things like magazines, school supplies, gift cards and cookies in the cafeteria on Fridays.
“All teachers, administrators, counselors, para-educators, secretaries and some other support staff participate in conducting the lessons,” Sumner said. “Last month the lesson was on cyberbullying and Internet safety.”
Jennifer Baker, who has been principal at Walter Johnson High School for a quarter of the year, said the school has no specific anti-bullying programs but handles each case on an individual basis. She said she plans to get together with the PSA to create a program teaching students and parents about bullying and, in particular, cyberbullying.
Baker said that when administrators determined an accusation of bullying to be valid, they sit down and have mediation between the students.
“Success is determined when the bullying behavior would cease and the kids would be able to be in the same building and when the bully would realize how hurtful his or her behavior was,” she said.