Eighth-grade students socialize in the cafeteria during lunch Thursday at Craig Middle School. Several students agreed that bullying happens almost every day within the school’s walls, and that’s a problem administrators said they are trying to address.

Photo by Shawn McHugh

Eighth-grade students socialize in the cafeteria during lunch Thursday at Craig Middle School. Several students agreed that bullying happens almost every day within the school’s walls, and that’s a problem administrators said they are trying to address.

Banding together to fight bullying

Moffat County School District trying to head off teasing, harassment

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Tracer Hickman and Blake Ludgate sat across from each other at a table during sixth-grade lunch Thursday afternoon at Craig Middle School.

As he finished up an apple, Tracer absentmindedly worked on homework while he joked with his friends just before the bell rang.

This time last year, Tracer often was teased and picked on by his now smiling friend sitting across the table.

“He used to bully me,” Tracer said, pointing his pencil at Blake. “But now we’re friends. This year he stopped, so now we’re friends.”

Blake admitted that throughout his school career, he has been on the giving and receiving end of bullying and that neither side was fun.

“I used to get picked on,” he said. “Then I started picking on kids. When I was getting bullied, I just felt really sad all the time. Then I realized the other kids might feel like that.”

One day at the end of fifth grade, everything changed between the two boys.

“One time he asked me if I needed a ride or if I wanted to go to the Boys & Girls Club with him,” Blake said. “I said I couldn’t because my mom wouldn’t let me, but we’ve been friends since then.”

Despite Tracer and Blake’s reconciliation, administrators, teachers and parents cannot do enough to stay ahead of bullying in schools.

Several CMS students agree that snide remarks, name-calling, and teasing are widespread within the schools walls, with the occasional violent outburst.

Administrators across the Moffat County School District are trying to find ways to intervene before a situation gets out of control.

At the elementary level, students start a non-violence program in preschool, where they learn empathy and impulse control, which is meant to teach students to think about their actions and not lash out.

But when bullying reaches the levels it sometimes does in middle school, there has to be disciplinary action.

In the mind of assistant principal Jill Hafey, however, she’d rather have the bullying issue diffused before a situation gets violent.

During lunch Thursday, a seventh-grade student sat outside Hafey’s office with a bag of ice pressed to his lip, the result of a series of harassments that came to a violent head.

The student had lashed out at someone who had been picking on him for a while, which Hafey said seemed to be a common thread among bullying-related fights at the school.

“This kid has never been in trouble,” she said gesturing to where he sat in the lobby. “I’ve never seen him in here before. There are little nitpicking things, things that don’t seem like a big deal when they’re isolated, like tripping and name-calling. I think kids minimize it, and before they know it, it’s crossed a line where they retaliate with a punch.”

But she said the biggest problem with diffusing social issues among students is knowing about them in the first place.

She said it’s unlikely for bystanders to report abuse to a teacher or administrator, and Hafey puts the responsibility on all of her students to prevent bullying.

She has gone as far as disciplining witnesses in a bullying incident who allowed the harassment to continue.

“I will stop it if I know about it,” she said. “I have 500 parents who are trusting me to keep their kids safe. I don’t tread lightly with it. Whether it’s suspension, or if they want to continue with this, they can soon deal with the law.”

For the most part, she said, middle schoolers aren’t a violent group, and they often don’t understand the consequences of their actions.

She said sometimes the perpetrators don’t realize what they’re saying or doing is hurtful to someone else.

“Sometimes you just have to tell them what they’re doing and put a label on it,” she said. “It’s bullying, and it’s not going to be tolerated. Most kids are really good kids. And it’s the kids that hold the key to stopping it. Peers will listen to peers more than they will listen to me.”

Middle school administrators hand out an anonymous survey to test the social waters among the students in an attempt to get a feel for what is going on.

There is also an anonymous tip line for students to send in messages about bullying incidents, but Hafey said very few use it.

Still, she said the cycles of bullying and submission have been going on a long time, and some students have resigned to being part of it.

“For some kids, it’s a way of life, and they just know they’re the lowest on the totem pole and it breaks my heart,” Hafey said. “And some kids end up retaliating, and it really breaks my heart, because we have to follow policy.

“It doesn’t help for one kid to stand up and say, ‘No, stop bullying me.’ That doesn’t work. Kids have to stick up for one another.”

In sixth-grade lunch Thurs­day, three students sat quietly at a lunch table near the edge of the cafeteria. They were best friends, and each experienced bullying in some form or another.

Emily Womble said she used to get teased a lot because she cared about what other people thought of her.

“Now I just say, ‘Whatever,’ and they’ve stopped,” Emily said. “I think they have horrible home lives and want other people to feel bad, too.”

Jordanne Flores, a quiet girl with long, dark hair, said not a day goes by she doesn’t get picked on in some way.

“It feels horrible,” she said. “I don’t like it. I don’t know why they do it.”

But across from her, her longtime best friend, Jovanna Powers, was adamant about not letting her friend continue to get hurt.

“I tell them to stop, and then I go get a teacher,” Powers said. “She’s my best friend, and I’m tired of it.”

Nicole Inglis can be reached at 875-1793, or ninglis@craigdailypress.com.

Comments

oldsage 4 years, 11 months ago

Thank you, assistant principal Jill Hafey for stating that "She has gone as far as disciplining witnesses in a bullying incident who allowed the harassment to continue." That looks a little Totalitarian to me. There it is, my grand child was minding his own business and was punished because Hafey thought he should be minding somebody else's business. The concept of punishment without trial for being accessory to the crime because the student heard some gossip that someone in his class was teased by someone else makes him guilty is very interesting.

It is clearly time to educate all the children about the BILL of RIGHTS, you know the part where the citizen doesn't have to submit to brutal, intimidating, and degrading interrogation tactics where the poor kid ends up confessing that he "knew" it was happening, not because he witnessed it, but only because he heard the gossip that it had happened and does not know the difference. The kid did not even witness anything! The kid is then punished for something he did not really know and now has a record within the school system for doing nothing wrong except not knowing his rights and for us letting an unaccountable school administrator act as the police, judge, jury, and executioner. There is no doubt in my mind that if a child invoked their 5th amendment right not to speak to this enforcer, that child would be punished and intimidated until they confess.

Not citing all the other great reasons to take your kids out of the public schools and send them to a private school or home school them yourself, this would be reason enough to do so!

Thank you again, assistant principal Jill Hafey for making the point that it is not the child bullies the kids and parents of Moffat County should really fear. It is the totalitarian police state within the schools people like you have created!

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JH24Kerry 4 years, 11 months ago

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bluestflameco 4 years, 11 months ago

One of the most amazing things that we can do for each other is act as caretakers for our community. I'm sad that Old Sage feels Jill Hafey did not make the right choice for her grandson, because I don't think Old Sage gets the most important issue of all: we all have the right to be safe.

In 22 years of teaching through 4 states, I have seen my share of bullying and fights. Almost always, it is not the two combatants who escalate a fight, but those who encircle the battle and yell inappropriate commentary from the sidelines. I have no idea whether or not Old Sage's grandson was one of those sideline people or not.

What I will tell you is this: the second a student steps onto the school grounds, that child becomes MY son or MY daughter to be nourished in all the care, concern, and celebration I can find. Like all of the good teachers and staff I know, I will do whatever I can--whatever it takes-- to make sure that that kid is safe and flourishing in a positive learning environment. I am also 100% certain Jill Hafey feels the same way.

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jt2009 4 years, 11 months ago

I have to say that I partially agree with Oldsage. I know for a fact that even when a kid tells a principal or teacher what has been happening it is not always handled correctly. Simply asking a kid "did you do .. to so-and-so" does not mean that they will be honest and fess up to what they did. Nor will the student reporting it to a teacher tell all that happened to instigate. I do believe that it is up to the students to stop bullying but I also believe that the SAME standards should be used by the school administration. This means that if that quiet student who gets straight A's generally minds their own business gets into trouble they should be punished in the same fashion that the star of the school team is punished for the same act. I understand that nobody is ever completely content with the way the school runs things no matter how much they try to please every parent/guardian. The thing that I believe needs to be concentrated on is all of the school administration on the same page about punishment AND parents making it clear that they don't condone that type of behavior. Now if you have lived here for any amount of time whether you had kids in the school or went to them yourselves you know that not every parent/gaurdian cares about the way that student acts in school. So if you do care do your part and make it perfectly clear what you believe needs done. This includes talking to your kids and seeing what their thoughts are. There is a possibility that there was a communitcation error somewhere and they aren't on the same page with you. Lastly we all need to PRAY for all the students, parents/gaurdians, AND school administrators.

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westslopeguy 4 years, 11 months ago

There's a good suggestion. Let's not worry about our (children's) constitutional rights. Let's not worry about biases IN THE COMMUNITY, let alone in the schools - Where do you think the kids get their bias from ???? I mean, you know our educational administrators don't even know the kids from "those" families. Let's not worry about the natural pecking order of adolescence, (right or wrong-it exists).

Let's just pray, I'm sorry-let's just PRAY- about it. That'll stop the chubby kid or the effeminate kid or the black kid, (oops...City Council will make sure THAT never happens), or the Mexican kid,-(err, nevermind THAT ONE is ok),- from getting picked on.

Geez, I get so tired of reading these, I promise myself I won't look tomorrow. But then again I do. And I am continually amazed at the arrogance I read. Both by those who post and those quoted in the article.

I apologize -Not for my opinions, just for posting them. I try to stay away from it, I just care too much for the community.

I don't even have 2cents, Paul

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