The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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February 25, 2000 Issue
Local News

Appeal helps teach respect for others

Students are learning peaceful ways to resolve their differences

Fourth in a series on the annual Bishop's Appeal

Bishop's Appeal

What: Bishop's Appeal, the Green Bay Diocese's annual fund-raiser to support diocesan programs and services.

Where: All parishes in the diocese.

When: Right now.

How: Making a cash, check or pledge donation. Materials have been sent to homes and also are available through parishes.

Theme: Helping People, Helping Families.

Target: $4,008,817.

By Linda DeVries
Compass Correspondent

Students at Catholic schools in the Green Bay Diocese are learning to peacefully resolve their differences and to respect each other through a program offered by Catholic Social Services.

Not only does the program seek to stop youngsters from picking on their peers - be it at home, school or anywhere else children gather - it also seeks to improve the future for those who are the instigators.

"Sixty percent of kids identified as bullies in elementary school have a criminal conviction by age 24," said Ellen Rylander, a therapist at the Manitowoc office of Catholic Social Services, who presents the program to students and teachers.

School-age bullies are more likely to become alcoholics, need more mental health services, have less successful marriages and jobs, and lower pay, Rylander said. "If bullying isn't identified and stopped, it can lead to more violent behavior."

Youngsters who take advantage of their peers is not new. What's new is efforts by teachers and school administrators are to end such practices as a way to curb school violence.

Rylander became interested in the topic a few years ago when a school administrator called to ask for advice about dealing with a child who was being ostracized by classmates. After researching the topic, she developed a presentation for schools. Every child seems to identify with what she talks about, she said, because they all know at least one bully.

Rylander defines "bullying" as a mean or hurtful physical, verbal, or relational act intended to put down another person. It ranges from doing actual physical harm to excluding someone from a group. These problems take up teachers' time and may leave students with emotional scars for the rest of their lives, whether they themselves are bullies or the victims of such behavior.

"Often the victims themselves start acting out because they feel so powerless," said Kay Franz, principal of Two Rivers Catholic Central, the first school to invite Rylander to talk with students. "We need to empower both the victims and the other kids so they can respond to bullying in a helpful way. I see this is an important, ongoing process in their development."

Rylander works with students at each grade level, kindergarten through eighth grade, throughout the Green Bay Diocese and her colleagues in other branch offices of Catholic Social Services are being trained to do the same thing.

"The programs are real participatory and about an hour each. I show a video, have the students role-play some situations, then lead a discussion. For example, I might ask, 'What can you do if you see someone being bullied?' The kids need to see that they do have choices as bystanders. The 'caring majority' can take power away from a bully. I tell the older kids that they have a responsibility to be role models for younger ones."

Recently, Rylander talked with fifth- and sixth-grade students at Ss. Peter and Paul School in Kiel in a follow-up session. Teachers Katie Stahmann and Patty McKenzie spoke enthusiastically about their students' response.

"At first the kids didn't want to admit there was a problem," McKenzie said, "but soon they really opened up. At our school we see more emotional bullying in the form of negative kidding. Some kids insisted that others 'know I'm kidding,' while others were willing to share that kidding makes them feel bad."

Stahmann said, "Ellen did a good job of communicating with the kids. They talked openly, and they will be keeping journals on the subject, based on some materials she is going to send us. They'll need to keep practicing how to accept others instead of judging them."

Betty Fritsch, a teacher at St. Mary, Clarks Mills, said Rylander's program was very worthwhile for her fifth-and-sixth-grade combination class. "She really got the kids involved. She began talking, then blended the kids in until they were talking to each other. It brought out some things we weren't aware of, like one boy's feeling about his nickname. It wasn't derogatory, but he wasn't comfortable with it, and he could express that.

Making it stop

Ellen Rylander of Catholic Social Services recommends the following steps against bullying:

1. Mobilize the masses of students (60%) who are neither victims nor bullies to take a stand.

2. Develop positive relationships.

3. Call on people in authority when needed.

4. If possible, avoid situations where bullying is most likely to occur.

5. Never antagonize a known bully.

"The students worked on conflict resolution and how to deal with bullying themselves," Fritsch said, "instead of always relying on authority figures to step in. Of course, we ask them to tell us in writing about any situation where they believe it's necessary for a teacher or parent to intervene. But these skills they are learning are so helpful in trying to remedy something that is a common human phenomenon."

The most effective tool for dealing with bullying, Rylander said, is "to mobilize the masses of students who are neither victims nor bullies to take action. These students have the potential to significantly reduce bullying simply by the way they react when they witness a bullying incident."

Rylander is pleased with the reception of the program. "We have a responsibility to keep our schools safe," she said. "When we address bullying, we are raising awareness and taking preventative measures toward reducing violence in our schools."

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