As a new school year begins, and the Governor signs a new anti-bullying measure, the issues related to teasing, taunting, bullying, harassment, and physical aggression on students’ feelings of safety and security in their schools, their academic engagement in the classroom, and—for some—their academic achievement and potential for graduation are issues of great concern to me as a parent, a lawyer and as a candidate for State’s Attorney.
Each day an estimated 160,000 students in the U.S. refuse to go to school because they dread the physical and verbal aggression of their peers. Many more attend school in a chronic state of anxiety and depression. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children estimates 6 out of 10 American youth witness or experience bullying at least once a day. It is an important issue for us all to address.
Bullying behavior, and being a victim of bullying often leads teens to violent crime and drug abuse, and it is increasing in new forms due to the explosive growth of text, social networks, and photo and video sharing--now known as Cyberbullying.
While different legal definitions exist for some of these acts, it is not always clear when teasing becomes taunting, taunting becomes bullying, and bullying becomes harassment, etc. What is clear, based on a number of Supreme Court decisions, however, is that schools are responsible for preventing and responding to teasing, taunting, bullying, harassment, and physical aggression when it occurs. What is also clear is that this is a community problem, and that there are no easy answers.
While there are efforts to legislate and put an end to these behaviors by mandating programs, the experts I have spoken with advocate a school-wide effort increasing students’ interpersonal, social problem solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional coping skills. The bill signed into law by Governor Quinn is inspired by the successful “Challenge Day," which employs a carefully-designed, day-long series of trust-building exercises to foster new levels of empathy and respect. This would seem to be a good start.
Dr. Howard M. Knoff is one of the country's leading experts on student behavior and helping educators respond productively to bullying and other school discipline issues, and is the author of the Building Stronger Schools Masters curriculum for teachers. I reached out to him recently to help understand how as Lake County State's Attorney, the office might help to protect our children from bullying and what role we may play in preventing it from negatively impacting learning in our schools and leading to teens lashing out through violence and drugs in response.
He shared with me the critical factors most highly correlated with academic achievement, which include:
1. A positive classroom climate that is conducive to learning,
2. A peer culture that is supportive of academic achievement,
3. The use of cooperative learning strategies complemented by positive and productive student and teacher interactions,
4. Effective classroom management,
5. High levels of academic engaged time coupled with a high percentage of teacher time focused on instruction, and
6. Teaching students to understand the underlying processes of what they are learning (educators refer to this as metacognitive understanding).
In reviewing this list, it indicates to me that we can't assume we can simply legislate or enforce laws to stop bullying, but that we need to work together--in the community, in the home and in the school--to ensure positive school and classroom climates; preparing teachers’ with classroom management skills; and fostering the students’ own social problem solving, conflict resolution, and coping skills. This solution Dr. Knoff defines as, "a school-wide system that encourages student accountability and self-management significantly contribute to the overall learning environment."
Dr. Knoff says, "When schools teach and reinforce positive and appropriate interpersonal, problem solving, conflict resolution, and coping skills, and students demonstrate these skills, teachers and students are more engaged in academic instruction, and incidents of teasing, taunting, bullying, harassment, aggression, apathy, defiance, and intolerance decrease." His focus is on inside the school. It's up to the rest of us--parents, guardians, community leaders and law enforcement--to do what we can to extend these efforts.
The State's Attorney can take a leadership role to make sure that the different agencies (social services, juvenile justice, and educational system) are all working together to provide that coordinated effort. We have to stress social skills programs so we are teaching kids how to have positive social interactions throughout their lives. Not just preaching to them. We have to make sure these programs translate into positive behavioral changes.
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Mike Nerheim is a Republican candidate with extensive experience working in all criminal divisions of the Lake County State’s Attorney’s office. As an Assistant State’s Attorney, he was well-respected by federal, state and local law enforcement for his guidance and approval of criminal charges and for his strong commitment to representing the needs of victims.
Nerheim is widely recognized for vigorously prosecuting those who have violated the law while respecting both the rights of victims and the rights of the accused to ensure no one is wrongfully convicted. He teaches “evidence” and “DNA,” and has successfully used DNA evidence in prosecution of criminal sexual assault. He has been appointed by the courts to investigate post-conviction issues pursuant to the Illinois Post-Conviction laws. He has written and argued post-conviction petitions on behalf of indigent defendants in defense of their constitutional rights.
Nerheim is an experienced prosecutor and defense attorney who is fair and dedicated to equal justice for all. His experience also includes areas of complex civil litigation and municipal law.
For More www.mikenerheim2012.com