Yoga, Shakespeare and sexting: how BVSD tackles modern bullying

Article by Lo Snelgrove

Video by David Cook 

“I got 10 fingers and I got 10 toes. I got two knees and two elbows. Two ears, two eyes, and one nose with two. Little. Holes.”

This is the dialogue that instructor Dee Marie of Calming Kids Yoga uses to teach kindergarteners an ancient yogic breathing technique. It’s part of a six-week curriculum that focuses on non-violent communication with the self and others. The ultimate goal of Marie’s program is to prevent and end bullying at school.

Parents of Marie’s students claim to have never seen anything like this when they were in school. But at that time there were no laws requiring that schools implement bully-proofing programs. Now, a proliferation of such laws exist at a state level. In 2011 Colorado made it illegal to bully.

Calming Kids is one of many tools Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) uses in compliance with these new laws. District Principal Kevin Braney, who has worked in BVSD for 20 years, said that administrators and educators take the issue very seriously.

Elementary school students practicing relaxation techniques in a Calming Kids class in Longmont.

Longmont elementary school students  practice relaxation techniques.

“It’s a huge priority for us,” Braney said. “16 percent of Boulder Valley high school students report being cyber-bullied, and it’s a much larger problem with females than males.”

Braney provided this data courtesy of an annual, district-wide student survey. The survey is one way BVSD tries to understand how bullying looks today, in order to create effective measures to countering violent behavior.

“The topic of bullying is a huge priority in keeping our schools safe,” Braney said. “We invest in academics but also in creating a safe and welcoming learning environment. We absolutely need both to support kids.”

Whittier International partnered with Calming Kids to do a four-year pilot and research program. Marie told the Huffington Post that she created the final version of her curriculum “after the first year of research, because our pilot study [indicated] that children taught to relax, self-regulate, communicate, and have compassion for others could dramatically increase their abilities to manage their anger.”

The Colorado Shakespeare Company’s bully-proofing presentation is another device frequently employed by BVSD. The company performs classics like “Twelfth Night” with some added educational flare, and follow the show with interactive workshops during which kids talk about bullies in the play. Last week the group performed at Casey Middle School, where students claimed to be pleasantly surprised by the educational entertainers.

“It was funny,” said 7th grader Juan Gonzalez.

Gonzalez said that he didn’t feel like bullying is a big problem at his school, and that his teachers have given him plenty of tools to know what to do if he sees or experiences any form of harassment or violence. When asked if he was familiar with the resource Safe2Tell, he replied, “Oh, yeah.”

Safe2Tell is designed to encourage students to report threatening behaviors at school by providing them with an anonymous hotline. At Boulder High School, each student has the organization’s phone number on the back of his school badge.

Yet despite the long list of tools and resources BVSD schools use to battle the issue, concerns over peer harassment and school violence are not on the decline. Nearly one in three students report being bullied during the school year, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. The 2013 BVSD student survey reported that a quarter of high school students reported being harassed at school, while 43 percent of middle schoolers reported being bullied.

“It’s still an issue and it’s getting harder to deal with,” said BVSD school counselor  Michael O’Neill. “Especially with Snapchat.”

O’Neill explained how students now use the cell phone app Snapchat to capture embarrassing or otherwise negative photos of peers and forward them on. The problem is, Snapchat photos exist only for 10 seconds and then disappear, meaning the damage will be done but the evidence will be gone.

The Chicago Tribune article attributed Snapchat’s popularity to “a teenage desire to communicate online and away from the eyes of parents and teachers who gravitate toward more mainstream social media sites such as Facebook.”

Bullying has a whole different face in 2014, and it’s usually presented on some type of backlit screen. The Pew Research Center reported that 15% of teens aged 12-17 surveyed on their cell phone use said that they had received a “sext” from someone they know.

“[With Snapchat] the message self-destructs,” O’Neill said. “How are we supposed to deal with that?”

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