A Muskogee County middle school goes after the bully problem head-on

Monday, November 15th 2004, 10:31 am
By: News On 6

A Muskogee middle school is beating bullies by breaking down barriers. Instead of school being a place that fosters conflict, students decided to create a new environment, one where no one has to feel alone.

The News on 6's Heather Lewin says for many, middle school is a chance to socialize and found lasting friendships. For others, it's a painful rite of passage, getting picked on for not fitting in.

Studies show nationwide, 160,000 students a day miss school for fear of being bullied. It's a fear that has no place at Hilldale in Muskogee County, because the students themselves put a stop to it.

Task force member John Engelbrecht: "I have a couple of self esteem problems and I thought it would help me with my self-esteem and it really did." John is a member of the student safety task force, a program for the kids, by the kids, to beat bullies by becoming friends. "I learned not to bully others and it occurred to me that others had stopped bullying me as much as I had been."

Hilldale School counselor Tracy Fenton: "Typically bullying peaks at about age 13, when you start seeing most of the problems. I was surprised and very happy that my students wanted to do their part."

Team captain and peer mediator Ty Smallwood: “I feel that I've pretty much always been a leader. I like to help people, I like to help them solve their conflicts and they may feel more comfortable coming to a peer than a teacher or counselor."

It's not just a handful of overachievers, half the student body belongs to the task force. More than 200 kids, attending monthly meetings and setting a positive example. Task force member Melanie Le: "It makes me feel happy because they know they can ask other people to help them."

Fenton: “Students follow other students, regardless of whether I have a counseling degree or I'm a school psychologist, teenagers at this age, listen to their peers." What they're hearing is school is not a place to be afraid.

Engelbrecht: "I love this school, I would come to school everyday and love it and I can't wait because, it's, it's just great."

School officials say the problem isn't 100% solved, but since the start of peer mediation efforts five years ago, student surveys show reports of bullying down by nearly half.