An expert panel of law enforcement and education officials brought together for a symposium sponsored by The University of Southern Mississippi agreed that bullying in schools could be quelled quicker through proactive measures.
“You don’t want to find yourself in a position where you wait to respond to a complaint and then a tragedy occurs,” said Donna Rigel, principal at Oak Grove Upper Elementary School. “The last thing you want is to be caught asking yourself, ‘what could I have done to prevent this from happening?’”
Rigel joined her husband, Lamar County Sheriff Danny Rigel; Forrest County and Youth Court Judge Michael McPhail and Hattiesburg Police Department Capt. Ricky Myers for a panel discussion on the closing day of the “Building Resistance and Resiliency to Violence, Defiant Groups and Bullying Symposium” held Oct. 4-5 at the Lake Terrace Convention Center in Hattiesburg.
The Office of Professional Development and Educational Outreach at Southern Miss served as host of the inaugural conference which featured guest speakers from across the country.
Few topics have captured more headlines, created more angst or stirred more discussion recently than childhood bullying. National statistics (http://www.how-to-stop-bullying.com/bullyingstatistics.html) indicate that 77 percent of students have suffered either mental, verbal or physical bullying. Thirty percent of U.S. students in grades 6-10 are involved in moderate or frequent bullying – as bullies, victims or as both. The statistics also show that half of all bullying incidents go unreported.
“What we try to do at Oak Grove is create an environment where the children feel comfortable talking to teachers and administrators about bullying,” said Donna Rigel. “And anytime we get a complaint, teachers are required to follow up with the parents within 24 hours.”
Myers emphasized the importance of early intervention where bullying is concerned, noting the success of the HPD’s “Keeping it REAL” campaign.
“We are constantly teaching some basic principles to these kids,” said Myers. “The ‘R’ stands for refuse. We want them to refuse to be involved in destructive behaviors. The ‘E’ is for explaining why you should not be doing certain things. The ‘A’ is for avoid. Just stay away from negative influences. And the ‘L’ is for leave. We encourage them to leave that kind of behavior behind.”
McPhail stressed the need to get parents more engaged in anti-bullying campaigns and strategies.
“We have to get these kids to understand that their choices lead to consequences,” he said. “And those consequences can have a devastating impact on their lives.”