At Dover High, students look for solutions to stop bullies

Dover High seniors, from left, Jazmyne Stanford, Barry Jones and Paige Rust, are part of the solution team for the school’s No Bully program. Students are encouraged to report incidents using boxes posted around the school. (Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — Dover High School is making peer pressure work to its benefit.

In a new program to combat bullying, the high school has organized a small student group that meets with victims of bullying and the person creating the stress to understand the situation and offer advice on how to handle it. Since its start in September, the solution team has handled just one incident, but it is ready whenever a situation arises.

“(Classmates) trust our expertise and what we’ve been through,” said senior class president Barry Jones.

He’s one of five upperclassmen who has been chosen for the group because of their empathetic nature, said Dover High School Associate Principal Tiff McCullough.

When an issue comes up, Mr. McCullough first meets with the student, who has a problem, to learn more and substantiate the claim, then he assembles the team to discuss the situation. During a subsequent meeting, they introduce the conflict individual. Initially, that student may not realize they are the person in the bullying role.

That’s often the case with bullying, said Mr. McCullough.

“They don’t know that they’re the bully,” he said. In the solution group’s first incident, the student who was causing conflict realized during the course of discussion that he was the culprit. Mr. McCullough said the student approached him afterward, acknowledged his behavior and the need to reach out to the classmate affected. He said, “Hey, I have to apologize. I didn’t know I was hurting your feelings.”

Barry said that’s often the case in situations he’s witnessed. A comment is made as a joke or a rumor begins and continues as hearsay. “The victim doesn’t take it like the person may have meant it,” he said. “There’s a lot of ways bullying does happen.”

Dover High is one of four schools in the state implementing the No Bully System this school year; Cape Henlopen School District’s Beacon and Mariner middle schools and Milford’s Milford Central Academy also are on board.

Results will be reviewed by the state Department of Education, which cited data that schools involved in the approach remedy bullying in over 90 percent of cases, and three-month followups indicate the resolution is still in place. If deemed successful, officials said, the education department will seek ways to expand the program.

After training for about 30 Dover staff members this summer to be “solution coaches,” Mr. McCullough asked a group of students to make anti-bullying videos that were shown to students once school started. Then, with input from teachers, he selected five students to be part of the solutions team. In addition to Barry are seniors Jazmyne Stanford, Paige Rust and Zaneea Hall and junior Zakoya Hall.

Along with being empathetic, the students were chosen for their ability to connect with a well-rounded group of peers, be good listeners and offer practical advice.

Jazmyne said she thinks the No Bully system can be effective. “It gives people an opportunity to come to people with a problem. They know they can trust these people.”

Barry agreed: “If you really want a problem to be solved, here are trusted people you can talk to. It’s like a genius idea.”

The peer approach, “gives kids a chance to confide in someone their age.”

“Sometimes it’s hard to face your issues,” he said. “Don’t run away from your problems.”

Jazmyne encourages peers to consider other ways to communicate their feelings or concerns, such as writing a letter.

All the group members welcomed students to solicit their advice, and all agreed that classmates respect the confidential role that their job on the solution team requires.

“It’s none of their business,” said Jazmyne.

Barry added, “That’s confidential stuff. People around here have enough sense not to ask.”

At Dover High, students can report bullying issues anonymously, dropping notes into boxes around the school, sending tips via the high school website or with their cell phone using a QR code scanner.

Capital Superintendent Dr. Dan Shelton said bullying by definition requires an imbalance of power between students involved, and that’s why the No Bully program can be successful. “By having students there (at the table), that balances the power. (Students on the solution team are) open minded. They’re going to mediate and balance the power.”

The bulk of the bullying behavior that Dr. Shelton and Mr. McCullough deal with is cyberbullying, which results from comments that spiral on social media, where students have access to a large audience and can make comments behind fake screen names. They encouraged students to speak up through the channels provided to bring issues to administrators’ attention so they can be addressed and resolved.

“At the end of the day, it’s up to that person if they want to talk or not,” Mr. McCullough said.

The No Bully pilot program joins a variety of initiatives taking place at Dover High to promote a safe and respectful school climate, including Positive Behavior Supports, or PBS, programs and the Peer Connection Group, which partners seniors with freshmen to help the high school transition. The school also has “Senator Up” time regularly when various issues such as bullying, conflict resolution, and drinking and driving, are discussed during a special extended class period.

“We’re trying to provide support for everybody, … just giving someone an ear or a shoulder to lean on,” Mr. McCullough said.

Managing editor Ashley Dawson can be reached at 741-8233 or adawson@newszap.com.

Ashley Dawson is managing editor of the Delaware State News. Email adawson@newszap.com.

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