Louisville schools address bullying

November 29, 2006
Reported by Janelle MacDonald

(LOUISVILLE) -- At one time or another, you've probably either done it or had it done to you -- teasing, name calling, gossiping are all bullying behaviors. Once considered a normal part of growing up, experts now recognize bullying as a genuine problem. Some Jefferson County schools are aggressively targeting the issue. WAVE 3's Janelle MacDonald investigates those techniques and how you can use them to get results -- whether your child is the victim or the bully.

Their stories will break your heart. Already Kaylyn and classmate Taylor Harris know endless hurt. "They used to say 'S-Curl' and 'Big Lips' and 'Big Feet'; 'You dirty!' and stuff like that," says seventh grader Kaylyn Capshaw. "At first, it hurt me really bad." Taylor says she was known by another name: "'Chipmunk,' because I've got big cheeks."

Taunting, teasing, name calling -- even physical violence, the two girls say they've been the target of bullying everywhere they've gone. "I've had a girl punch me before," Taylor says. "I've got called names and it's constantly -- I mean every school I've went to, I've been called the same name."

But in a way, both Taylor and Kaylyn feel lucky because the school they now attend, Kammerer Middle School, aggressively targets bullying. Joyce Pryor is a behavior coach at Kammerer, one of only a few in the entire JCPS system. It's a full-time job devoted to teaching students how to interact with each other. Pryor has done a lot of her training on the job, learning both from the limited resources out there and students themselves. She says "bullying stems from kids that basically want to be in control, kids who usually are very intelligent, but tend to intimidate other children to make themselves look highlighted." Pryor says victims are emotionally vulnerable. They often are timid, suffer from low self-esteem, and sometimes become bullies themselves in reaction. And they're often loners. "Sometimes it seems so fearful, they don't talk to anybody." Pryor says for both the bullies and their victims, there are problems later in life: victims may have a hard time maintaining relationships, and their frustration could escalate. For the bullies, Pryor says there is "a high risk for them to grow up and be somebody that feels a high demand to have what they want and if they don't get it, then to go to violent or whatever extremes."

Pryor and the adults at Kammerer work to identify the problem early and then they set up mediations where the bullies and the victims meet face to face -- with adults -- to change what's happening. But not every school has someone like Joyce Pryor. JCPS educators will tell you that stopping bullying is a top priority, but frustrated parents have a hard time seeing that.

Pryor says parents can learn from some of what she's doing, and take the problem and its solution into their own hands. The most important thing, Pryor says, is to encourage kids to talk about it. "If you are hurt or offended by something somebody continuously does harassing you, bring it to an adult." Pryor says that bullying can't be changed overnight. Often even therapy can't do it, unless you change the way the student thinks. "That thinking has to be about themselves, the way they feel about themselves." What that means, she says, is you need to build up self-esteem both in the bullies and, more importantly, their victims. "That's the best thing the parents can start doing: is making your child see the worth within themselves; and then, no matter what somebody else calls them, what they do to them, they know they're not that." Techniques that seem to work, for the most part, at Kammerer, particularly for students like Kaylyn and Taylor, now mature far beyond their years because of that endless hurt and what they've learned from it.

Kaylyn now has advice for other kids who are being bullied. "I'd tell them to raise their head up, because the people that's taunting them and hurting them, it's not worth it for them to hurt inside." And Taylor has this to say: "I don't think you should stop your life just because somebody tries to ruin it."

A few more tips for parents: if your child is the bully, work on developing empathy and make sure you're not doing things at home -- talking about your neighbors or coworkers -- that shows bad behaviors. For parents of victims: make sure you know your school's policies, look for help from teachers and administrators and hold them accountable for following policies. In extreme cases, you may need to notify the police, particularly if your child is assaulted. And if neither school officials or police respond, consider legal action.

Click here for more tips on dealing with bullying.