Last week a presentation on the handling of harassment and bullying issues was made to the Marlboro School Board by Asistant Superintendant of Technology and Personnel Michael Bakatsias and the Director of Curriculum and Instruction Robin Hecht.
Bakatsias gave an overview on how the district “maintains a proper climate” in the work place and in the learning space at school. He said the main thrust of the Dignity for All Students Act [DASA] that passed in 2010 is to create a “safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment and bullying on school property, on a school bus or at a school function.”
Bakatsias said at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year the district stressed that it is the responsibility of all staff members, who are public employees, to know the district’s safety policies, practices and laws that exist and to know who and where to go to for additional information.
“We are all on one big team and we’re here to create the very best possible opportunities for students to succeed and to leave us with the 21st century skills that we know they need,” he said.
Bakatsias said it is imperative that everyone has a voice and is treated with dignity and respect “to allow for a proper flow of information and a sharing of ideas and problem solving, which is what we do in those areas.”
Bakatsias said last spring the district began to assess threatening behavior for the staff to understand and initiated drug awareness presentations on the opioid and heroin crisis that is gripping the region and the nation. He pointed out that we all have an obligation that if ‘we see something, say something’ to the administration or to a staff member.
Bakatsias said awareness and further communication on these matters is addressed at faculty meetings, on Conference days, through the Attendance Committee and the RTI [Response To Intervention] and Student Development Committees. Safety is also enhanced by the Safety Committee through building and safety teams.
The presentation listed multiple avenues of support for the staff and students, such as grade level orientations, having DASA coordinators, ensuring there are McKinney Vento Liaisons to assist homeless students, having guidance and student assistance counselors and mental health advisers available and holding child study team meetings, to name a few.
Hecht listed some of the professional development opportunities that are available; Superintendent Conference Days, ongoing yearly training for DASA, VADIR [Violent And Disruptive Incident Reporting] and for BIP [Batterer Intervention Program], Digital Citizenship training for staff and students that emphasizes the proper use of technology, how to address trauma in a school counseling setting, use of electronic investigation data and having ongoing safety and health and wellness meetings. Hecht said highlighting cyberbullying and web safety and holding poverty simulation workshops brings these issues into relief.
“All of this helps us to know what to look for and how to provide support,” Hecht said. “These are just a few of the initiatives that we’ve done throughout with students and the staff.”
Hecht called attention to several programs that are presently in place at the three schools. The elementary school has the Positive Behavior Intervention and Support [PBIS] program that is aimed at improving social, emotional and academic outcomes for all students. The Responsive Classroom program, designed for grades k-8, looks at creating stronger ties between a student’s academic success and their social-emotional skills. A Lunch buddy program helps student learn how to be friends and a Character Education program employs innovative and exciting activities organized around certain themes, such as conflict resolution, curriculum integration, career awareness and service learning while also involving the parents and the community. Hecht said after school clubs are a way to promote a sense of belonging and teamwork for students.
The Middle School has the Olweus program that prevents or reduces bullying among students, has a student/teacher mentoring program, hosts a breakfast to recognize students with admirable traits, has a focus on providing students with a sense of belonging and is reviewing the student code of conduct. Principal Debra Clinton has initiated small group “Lunch with the Principal” days to foster better communication while helping her to see if the school is meeting the students’ social and academic needs.
At the high school Hecht said for two years they have had the Safe School Ambassador program that teaches students communication and intervention skills aimed at preventing and stopping emotional and physical bullying and violence. There is also student instruction that is focused on sensitivity and a Link Crew consisting of juniors and seniors who help freshman during their first year of high school. There is also digital citizen training, promotion of after school clubs and activities and character education. The high school also has a Role Modeling program that teachers provide for the students.
“They are with the students all the time and the students are watching, listening and learning how to treat each other well,” Hecht said.
High School Principal Ryan Lawler said Sensitivity Training, especially in English and Social Study classes, helps students to “really understand different people’s perspectives and how to proceed in other people shoes. That really goes into the fabric of how we treat each other and I feel that is happening throughout the [high school] building.”
By Mark Reynolds