"Don't laugh at me. Don't call me names. Don't get your pleasure from my pain," sing the kindergartners at Snowden School. The kids may be too young to have heard of the song's originators -- Peter, Paul, and Mary -- but they are not too young to understand the words.
Bullying was on the agenda of the optional school Tuesday morning, as the school launched its two-year bully-prevention initiative. During three presentations, students sang, danced, and rapped about the need for acceptance.
"Bullying is everywhere, we're just not afraid to talk about it," said school counselor Sharon Carter.
Snowden and Colonial Middle School are the only two schools in West Tennessee selected to participate in the Olweus Bully Prevention Program, promoting a safer and more positive atmosphere on school campuses. Both schools applied for the program through the Nashville organization Students Taking a Right Stand (STARS). Funding was made available through the district's Center for Safe and Drug Free Schools. Teachers and administrators completed program training in July.
"Think about the words to the [kindergartners' song], and whether you've ever gotten pleasure from someone else's pain. If you have, then that's bullying," said principal Catherine Battle.
The program is based on bullying research by Norwegian scientist Dr. Dan Olweus and involves four components: individual, classroom, schoolwide, and community/parent. Part of the community component included a program presentation to parents held during an evening PTA meeting. The initial school assessment included student surveys about bully behavior and victimization. From the surveys, teachers will hold classroom meetings to address the behaviors, and administrators have developed schoolwide and classroom rules based on the program tenets.
"In post-Columbine times, everything has changed," said STARS president Rodger Dinwiddie. "We're now looking at students who have been picked on so much and have internalized it to the point where they can inflict damage on themselves or others." Dinwiddie admits that bullying has long existed in school but that the severity has greatly increased. "What we used to experience in school was conflict. Now, conflict has escalated. Bullying is not conflict. Bullying is abuse."
Within the district, Snowden and Colonial Middle are not usually involved in unacceptable student behavior and violent situations. "Whether or not a school has other discipline problems means nothing," said Ann Sharp with CSDFS. "All schools have a bully problem. It's just that we tend not to place as much attention there."