Samuel W. Pennypacker School has taken a no tolerance for bullying stance.
Counselor Joan Genaw and dean Austin Wallace are quick to point out that they have the backs of the students who are bullied as well as those who report bullying directed at them or other students. To this end, the school has “No Bully Zone” signs lining its hallways.
Genaw said that bullying had escalated at the school during the fall. By November, the school became part of the Oleeus Bullying Program to address it. All faculty, staff and students are involved in weekly sessions to bring to attention what bullying is.
“It’s really important to define bullying,” Genaw said. “Sometimes people will think that it’s just teasing without realizing that most of what we call teasing is bullying. Once the students understand what bullying is, they can look for the signs of it.
“They then engage in peer mediation. The fifth- and sixth-graders are trained in ways to resolve conflicts. This helps students to reduce the bullying and support the students who are bullying. We also (are committed) to addressing the bullying once it is reported,” Genaw said.
Wallace directly attributes the increased bullying at the beginning of the school year to social media. He said that as younger students are getting on Facebook and Twitter, they are actually cyberbullying. This, he said, is often worse than the old fashioned face-to-face bullying.
“For one thing it extends the bullying beyond the school day,” said Wallace. “With social media they can carry it on for hours after they leave school. That in itself escalates it. So, social media is definitely a catalyst with more students having cell phones and being online. Now they can bully for hours at a time.”
To this end, Wallace said that while the school can do its part, parents also play a role in ending bullying. He said that parents “must become partners” with the school by modeling what it means to be “productive citizen.” This may involve monitoring their child’s social media interactions or even banning them from it if they are the bullies. Parents, too, may have to look at their own social media behaviors.
“I think sometimes parents underestimate the voice they can have in their child’s life,” Wallace said. “I believe that as we at the Philadelphia School District address this problem; parents can also do the same. It might be something as simple as playing basketball with them and turning it into a math lesson or walking through the neighborhood and make it a science lesson.
“The important thing is interacting with your child. The message I want to tell parents is to not only monitor your child but also never underestimate the effect of positive attention. That plays a bit part in addressing this,” Wallace said.