October is National Bullying Prevention Month and schools across the historic triangle are taking extra measures, especially in the social media era.
“I think 20 years ago [bullying] looked different,” said Anita Swinton, coordinator of student services for Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools. “But now, [students] are so connected to technology that they’ve started to feel as though its how they should handle their concerns instead of talking to a person face-to-face.”
As social media plays a bigger part in student life, Swinton said bullying can be something that follows a student home. No longer are the bullies only at school, students can now look at messages or posts that might be a form of bullying as well.
“We have more today that impacts the learning environment,” she said. “It’s more than just an individual student, I think administrators have to deal with it more than they used to a few decades ago.
Aaron Butler, director of school administration for York County School Division, said there are three types of bullying: physical, verbal and emotional.
“Bullying is repetitive over time, there’s an imbalance of power and intention to do harm,” he said. “Before social media, we would see kids socially isolating each other on purpose and address it in one way…now because of social media and technology, people do more with written things because you have that anonymity behind a screen.”
Both school districts have started taking more proactive measures instead of only preventive. This means educating students on what bullying is in all forms, how to handle it as a victim and as a bystander.
“When [schools] promote those activities, they’re encouraging students to understand why they’re doing them,” said Katherine Goff, spokeswoman for York County School Division.
Swinton said Williamsburg-James City County Schools operate under state guidelines when it comes to bullying prevention. For each school, there are locations online that students, parents or community members can report anything concerning.
It’s the same in York County School Division as well, Goff said.
“The York County School District’s biggest commitment is ensuring when we receive a concern, [we are] taking swift action and applying action to investigate,” Goff said. “But we have to help people understand what’s bullying and what might just be an argument.”
To track the level of bullying that might be taking place at a school, the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice collects a secondary school climate survey that takes responses from middle and high school students throughout the state and compiles the data on bullying.
In YCSD, 73 percent of students this past year said they had never been bullied at school and 91 percent said they had never been cyber-bullied, according to information from Goff. However, 43 percent of students agreed there was bullying about appearance and 30 percent said there was bullying in regards to sexual topics.
In WJCC, 69 percent said they had never been bullied at school and 87 percent said they had never been cyber-bullied, according to data from the VDCJ. However, 21 percent said they there was bullying about appearance and 27 percent said there was bullying in regards to sexual topics.
With those numbers, Butler said each school addresses the issues by coming up with strategies for the next year. One of the most important things, is making sure students feel as though there is a mentor or adult they’re comfortable enough with to report bullying.
In WJCC, Swinton said the schools track bullying reports on a month-by-month basis where reports can be as little as five or as much as 10, sometimes.
But with October being National Bullying Prevention Month, both districts have been stepping up to teach about the various layers of bullying through “kindness weeks,” counseling and activities.
“It can have a serious emotional impact,” Swinton said. “But we want to mediate these [issues] and teach them how to handle it.”