PARDEEVILLE — Bullying won’t be tolerated by the Bulldogs in Pardeeville.
“You definitely don’t want to just let it go, because then the bully thinks it’s OK,” said Pardeeville Elementary School counselor Megan Dietzenbach. Her entire school was marching toward the football field Wednesday afternoon to spell out the word “HERO,” which stands for “Helping Everyone Respect Others.”
“You shouldn’t hurt people just because you’re hurt,” said fourth-grader Chloe Vangen. It seems like every bully, she clarified, is someone who’s also being bullied.
Fourth-grader RaeLyn Holtan added, “It makes people feel sad. It isn’t nice.”
“Talk to them,” Chloe said of the solution. Some minutes later, middle and high schoolers joined the elementary students on the field to recognize Unity Day, the key date for National Bullying Prevention Month.
“(Bullying) has led to low self-esteem, to children feeling worthless as they get older — it’s something that impacts them socially, academically, in their family,” Dietzenbach said of why Pardeeville Elementary began celebrating Unity Day three years ago. “Unfortunately, we all know it can lead to suicide if the victim is not helped.”
The statistics Pardeeville employs when addressing the issue of bullying seem daunting. About one in every five students reports being bullied, according to research conducted in 2016 by the National Center for Educational Statistics. But 64 percent of children who are bullied do not report it, according to another survey conducted in 2010, Dietzenbach said.
Meanwhile, school-based bullying prevention programs decrease bullying by up to 25 percent, according to another survey from 2013, and that’s the biggest reason Dietzenbach felt compelled to get the elementary school involved in Unity Day activities when she came to Pardeeville from the Sun Prairie School District three years ago.
Before taking to the field on Wednesday, elementary students made anti-bullying videos, sharing “a plethora of ideas on what you want to do” when you see bullying, Dietzenbach said.
“This is one day where the school understands, yes, we’re one, solid force and bullying is not OK. We’re not going to let it happen here.”
It takes everyone
“At the elementary level, we find it’s best to teach having respect for everyone, no matter your age, size, color and so on, and if you’re teaching children to respect everyone, they’ll respect themselves,” Dietzenbach said.
In her classroom, Dietzenbach first explains to students what bullying is — the targeting and harassing of a person over and over. Then she explains what bystanders should do. “You don’t just want to stand by and let it happen,” she said. “(But) it takes an entire community, school, group to stand up and say, ‘That’s not OK.’”
Students also are encouraged to befriend victims of bullying.
“Make sure you let an adult know because sometimes you might be too afraid” to confront a bully, Dietzenbach said. “Make sure everyone is aware that you, yourself, are not OK with bullying, and that you stand up for other people.”
It’s especially important that students in the elementary age group receive such education, she said. This doesn’t mean bullying won’t occur at the later grade levels, but the elementary level is where students hopefully will learn why bullying is wrong. Cyber-bullying, moreover, has made such education more important than ever before, since more students will begin using social media as they advance to middle and high school levels.
“So we do lessons focusing on kindness,” Dietzenbach said. “(This month) we focused on what to do if you see it, what to do if you’re bullied and how to be a HERO. We talk about their comfort level, the personal choice involved.
“You can try to ignore it, because bullies look for power, and you can try to walk away — you can say that’s not cool, if you’re comfortable with that.”
More than anything else, victims are encouraged to talk to an adult.
“Respect,” Principal Mary Kamrath said, “we talk about it every day.”
It can be difficult, psychologically, for a victim of bullying to deal with the problem effectively, and that’s why schools emphasize the importance of educating bystanders. Being a “HERO,” Dietzenbach said, is as much about helping the bullied “know they’re awesome people” as anything else.
In the middle school, counselor Courtney Sturtevant explained how her school each week issues a “Monday Message,” sharing stories about empathy, integrity and inclusion. “We kick off the week on a positive note,” she said. “We’re trying really hard to focus on positivity and inclusion.”
Friday Feelings, a gathering held during homeroom periods each week at the middle school, is another time devoted to the “education of inclusion,” Sturtevant said. “We tell them (bullying) affects the whole school, so they understand they need to work together to make school a better place.
“It’s not the easiest thing for a middle schooler to have the confidence (to stand up against bullying), so we try to show them it’s cool to help others.”
Youth Risk Behavior Surveys also help the middle school to determine how big of an issue bullying might be, with the most important question being whether students feel they have an adult they can talk to about their problems.
Last year, about 70 percent of middle schoolers said they do have that adult to talk to.
“We were happy about that number, but we want it up,” Sturtevant said. “In my opinion, that’s the most important question. Research shows how important it is to just have that one adult in your life that cares about you. Students don’t always get that at home, unfortunately.
“I want our kids to feel safe here and know there is at least one adult they can go to.”