NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Amanda McGeshik is leading the fight against school bullying in Dickson, Tennessee, a rural county in the middle of the state that has only 15 schools and slightly more than 8,200 students.
“Bullying is extremely prevalent. It happens in every school,” says McGeshik.
McGeshik works with Second Step, a violence prevention classroom curriculum offered by Centerstone of Tennessee . She makes weekly visits to Dickson Elementary School, working primarily with upper elementary students but also preschoolers.
“Kids have to ride the bus, they have to sit in the classroom, so when they’re repeatedly being bullied, it goes from being sad and mad and hurt to being depressed to being enraged,” explains McGeshik. “Those problems get worse when you’re continuously exposed to them. And children don’t understand that I only have to deal with it this year. They live very much in the here and now.”
Three out of 10 students said they were being bullied at school in 2007, the most recent year of reporting in the Indicators of School Crime and Safety Report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Of that number almost all said they were bullied inside school. The rest report being bullied outside on school grounds, on school buses, or elsewhere. The incidents ranged from being made fun of—the most common—to being pushed or spot on to being threatened with harm, excluded from activities,or made to do things they did not want to do.
In Tennesee, the numbers are slightly lower than the national average– 17% of high school students report being bullied on school property, according to the Youth Risk Behaviors Surveillance by the CDC. Counselors like McGeshik believes teaching anti-bullying along with other classroom courses can lower than number even more.
“Second step focuses a lot on myself, ‘What can I do to not be a bully’. We teach children that empathy means when you care about other people you care about what happens to them,” says McGeshik. “After we mastered the skill of empathy, we move on to impulse control and we start to discuss problem-solving and calming down so that you can maneuver through those impulsive thoughts. From impulse control we transition very naturally into anger management, because anger can make you very impulsive.
“We also talk about the skill of refusal… to be able to stand up and say ‘Leave me alone. Stop it! I don’t like what you’re doing. I’m going to tell if you don’t stop.’
More than 600 children across six counties in Tennessee have participated in the Second Step program, which lasts anywhere from 22 to 28 weeks.
Sandy Beech teaches fourth grade at Dickson Elementary. She has seen a positive impact among her students who have participated in Second Step.
“They’ve devloped skilled to be brave, I think, if they need to report something,” says Beech. “Because parents often say ‘Don’t tattle.’ Here we learn the difference between tattling and reporting. And I think this equips them with the tools to step up and to help each other.”
McGeshik says the repetition of her weekly visits help students learn to process their emotions in a healthier way– something they might not learn in a textbook or other class work.
“I hope they will identify in themselves either something positive or that’s something that they need to change,” says McGeshik. “The second thing I hope they walk away with is an understanding that it’s not okay to be bullied. You shouldn’t just ignore it and put up with it everyday. You need to open up your mouth and ask for help.”