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Parents Group Says Involvement Key to Preventing Bad Behavior in School

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CHAPEL HILL — Fighting, name calling, aggression. Research says only a few kids cause most of these kinds of disruptions in schools. That concerns a group of parents trying to keep their children safe.

A Chapel Hill parents group says prevention strategies, including peer mediation, work well when students are on an equal footing. However, the group likens bully behavior to child abuse and sexual harassment. Improving school culture takes a different tactic and a whole community's help.

At times, students struggle to find peace and quiet in the classroom. Katie Young knows firsthand how tough it can be.

"In fifth grade, my best friend went with the other girls and started being mean to me," she says.

The dispute escalated over time and Young was shocked when her old friend turned on her new friend.

"She grabbed her by the collar and it was one of those collars that had a hood, and it was right against her neck, and so it pulled her back by the neck," she says.

The Parents for Peaceable Schools is a new organization that wants to be a force against violence before it erupts.

"Parents often don't know how to respond to that, either when their children are the recipients or the givers of those things," says Mark Young, Katie's father.

Nudging, pushing, intimidation and power plays often happen under the faculty radar in the cafeteria, hallways and the school yard. Parents for Peaceable Schools promotes strategies to cut down the bullying which can lead to more serious behavior.

Among the ideas the group wants to teach students:
  • Use their own influence to make bullying behavior uncool.
  • Increase adult presence to deter bad behavior.
  • Help train teachers to use new intervention techniques.
  • "Empathy, kindness, along with ways of mediating difficulties and settling differences peacefully and respectfully are very teachable skills," says organizer James Evans.

    The group found a receptive ear atMcDougle Middle Schoolin Chapel Hill.

    Teachers there weave violence prevention strategies into the curriculum. They see students picking up on the subtle lessons. Parents For Peaceable Schools wants one district-wide plan to change the very culture of schools.

    Lisa Desesaris, a school social worker, meets with all kinds of students in small groups. Self-respect helps students respect others.

    "Although I think violence prevention needs to be systemwide, we need to tailor what we do to the particular environment," she says.

    "Unfortunately what we're asking takes time for the teachers, it takes training, and it requires resources. I think what we're asking of them is a very tall order," says parent Rebecca Young.

    It also takes an adjustment of priorities.

    "I believe if we have to sacrifice a few points on the SAT scores so that human beings can get along in this world and treat each other with compassion, then I think that's a very fair trade," Evans says.

    Katie Young's parents did the right kinds of things. They listened to her and gave her advice on how to talk to the bully. They also talked to the other child's parents, and the teacher. None of those steps really worked.

    The girls are in different classes now and do not meet. There is no real quick fix to change a bully or a school's culture, but it may be the key to stopping major violence in schools. What did you think about this story?Send us feedback!