“‘Team Greiner’: UB’s Champions” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Me with Carol and Bill Greiner at UB Graduation, Amherst, New York, May 1993

Me with Carol and Bill Greiner at UB Graduation, Amherst, New York, May 1993

When I think of Carol and Bill Greiner, I have fond memories of my interactions with them while I was an undergraduate student at the University at Buffalo (UB).  Studying psychology, political science, and music performance at UB for three and one-half years provided me with many opportunities for interactions with the Greiners.  It enriched my life to have them there, to be excellent role models, to experience their interest in and compassion for students.  As I walk down my nostalgic memory lane, I can accept and be happy with the interactions that I had with the Greiners at many university events, though I will always feel a sense of “unfinished business” due to the things that I was unable to bring myself to say to them.

For that, I wish I had been more mature, more open, more able to trust that I would receive a response from them that I desired.  Of all of the wonderful events and experiences that I had as a student at UB, there was one situation that occurred about which I was unable to speak with them – being the victim of a crime on campus.  I still wish I could have had more time to speak with them, and be able to open up to Carol about it, in particular, but at the time, it was too recent, too painful, too embarrassing and humiliating.  It took me years to fully address and come to terms with what had occurred, and to receive the support that I needed.  And, it was years later when I was able to disclose to Carol, anonymously, about my experience, which was helpful, but still not the same as speaking about it in person.

Something in me needed Carol to know what I experienced; I had hoped the Greiners might be able to implement programs or policies that would have better-protected students such as myself who had experienced what I did.  Never having shared about what it was provided no potential for change, improvement, or support for other UB students who had the same experience.  Perhaps, one day, I will not feel that sense of regret and loss about being unable to speak with the Greiners about the traumatic and life-changing crime that I experienced in my last semester as an undergraduate student at UB.

I first met Bill Greiner when he was the University Provost and I was a freshman, just taking flight as a student at UB.  He was at an event that welcomed students who were new to UB; my parents were there too, and my mom encouraged me to speak with him, and I did.  At first, I was intimidated about speaking with him, though when I did, he made me feel comfortable and welcome; he made me feel understood, appreciated, and respected.  The highlight of the event, in fact, was personally speaking with Bill.  I still remember the confidence he instilled in me in only a few minutes of conversation that I would do well and be successful at UB; I appreciated that.

Within two years, Bill was appointed President of UB.  That semester, I saw and spoke with him again at Homecoming.  At that time, the Homecoming parade was organized at the Main Street Campus in Buffalo, and the floats were driven to the Amherst Campus.  I was a representative of the UB Irish Club for Homecoming that year, in 1991; and was pleased to see and speak with Bill there.  His presence reflected his interest in and concern for students; that was evident and obvious, and again, was something for which I was appreciative.  As time progressed, I determined that these qualities were infused in his character and personality.  He did not just go to some rare event on occasion; he was actively involved in attending and participating in UB events, many of them, jointly, with Carol.

That year and the next, I saw both Bill and Carol at the Homecoming football games; and I saw and/or spoke with Bill on at least three other occasions on the Amherst Campus during my last semester.  On one occasion, I saw him while he was being interviewed in the Plaza by a TV reporter; on a second, I overcame my nervousness and visited Bill at his office, taking many gladioli from my family garden; and on the third, I spoke with him as we happened to be leaving Capen Hall at the same time one evening.  ‘Team Greiner’ was always there, doing more than their part to make UB even more of a success.

The Greiner Family, Susan with Husband, Daniel with Wife, Bill and Carol, Stephen with Wife, Terry with Partner, September 1992

The Greiner Family on Bill’s Inauguration Day as UB President; Susan with Husband, Daniel with Wife, Bill and Carol, Kevin with Wife, Terry with Partner; Sept. 1992

In my last semester at a senior at UB, Bill was inaugurated as President, and I saw alot more of the Greiners.  In fact, I saw them at so many events that I looked forward to seeing and speaking with them, and I actually expected them to be at the events that I attended.  It seemed that everywhere I went, ‘Team Greiner’ was there, too.  The supportive actions of Bill and Carol toward UB, and the students, faculty, and staff were warmly-welcomed and appreciated by so many.

In September 1992, Bill’s Inauguration Week as President of UB provided opportunities not only to speak with Bill and Carol, but also to experience the happiness and joy of those events with them.  There was a Roman Catholic Mass performed at St. Joseph’s Church, right next to the UB Main Street Campus in Buffalo to essentially “kick off” Inauguration Week.  I made every effort to attend because it had been the night before that I had experienced crime victimization at UB; I was already traumatized from it, but did not realize or deal with it.

Additionally, at St. Joseph’s Church following the mass, I was also able to meet and speak with certain other members of the Greiner Family, including his sons and their wives and/or significant partners.  It was wonderful to have the feeling that the qualities of both care and compassion so evident in Carol and Bill had also been transferred to their admirable offspring.  In speaking with their adult children, one immediately knew that they did a fine job at parenting.

Me with Greiners at UB Christmas Concert, Amherst, New York, December 1992

Me with Greiners at UB Christmas Concert, Amherst, New York, December 1992

As Bill’s Inauguration Week progressed, I attended what I recall as being a symphonic concert on campus to celebrate his achievement; it was beautiful.  And, I also attended Bill’s Inauguration as the 13th President of UB, an event for which I remember arriving very early because I wanted my choice selection of seat, as well as to scope out the best locations to take pictures to add tangibility to my fond memories.  Again, I had opportunities to see and speak with members of the Greiner Family.

Following the actual Inauguration was a reception that was held in the new Student Union building, one of many major projects that Bill influenced and completed at UB.  By this time, I really felt a connection with the Greiner’s and their family.  I had seen and interacted with them at several events, and believed that I could trust being more openly, emotionally vulnerable with them.  I had particularly wanted to share about the crime that I had experienced only a few days prior to the Inauguration.  I tried to do so at the reception, separately, with Carol, and with Terry, one of the Greiners’ sons, but I could not bring myself to do it.  I had psyched myself up for it, but talked myself out of doing it, and have always regretted it; it was just too painful and traumatic.

As someone who was active in numerous UB clubs and groups, including ethnic/language-related groups and student government, I received invitations to attend the Student Association’s Christmas parties for two consecutive years, in 1991 and 1992.  On both of those occasions, I saw Bill and Carol, but spoke with them only at the second such event.  By then, three more months had passed, and I had mentally-buried and not dealt with the crime that I had experienced.  It was also at this event that I asked Bill if he would write a recommendation for me.  He asked me to see that he received my resume, said that he would write a recommendation for me, and he did.  I still have and cherish it.

Prior to finishing the last of my classes as an undergraduate student at UB in December 1992, I again saw and spoke with Carol and Bill at a Christmas Concert, held in the Ellicott Complex, my group of dormitory buildings on the Amherst Campus.  Following the Christmas Concert, Carol was very warm toward me, much as always, and spoke with me about alot in a short time.  She made me feel important, valued, and accepted; she showed to me much warmth, understanding, and compassion, like one would receive from a good mother, and much as I do with my own son.

I felt such a connection with Carol during our conversation, and remember wishing that it could last forever.  I needed the warmth and compassion of someone; and I privately thanked God for her, and for her to have treated me as kindly and lovingly as she did.  Interestingly, Bill was somewhat of a sour puss that evening and I could tell that he did not want to talk, though I did not allow that to dampen my happy holiday spirits.  I remember wondering how anyone could seem so grouchy after such a wonderful and festive holiday concert.  It was a different side of him that I had not yet experienced and had not expected, but accepted on that occasion.

The last time that I interacted with the Greiner’s was when I returned to UB for my graduation in May 1993.  I had completed my coursework for my two baccalaureate degrees in December, moved to and was working in Manhattan, and came back to participate in the graduation ceremonies.  I’m glad that I did, and I have many wonderful memories of celebrating my accomplishment with many of my student colleagues as well as my family.  Seeing the Greiners again at this event showed me how much I had grown in a few months of having finished my studies, though it also left me with a longing and nostalgia for maintaining a connection with them.  It was difficult and painful to let go.

The final time that I saw the Greiners was at SUNY Day in Albany in 1999.  SUNY Day is a day that is arranged for student delegates of State University of New York system to go Albany, New York – the state capitol – to meet and speak with state government representatives, receive tours of their offices, and hear lectures.  At the time, I was taking undergraduate courses at Buffalo State College to complete my social studies teacher certification, and I was a student government representative to the event.

It was at SUNY Day that I met former Assembly Member Sam Hoyt from Buffalo; he invited me to intern in his Buffalo office, and I later did, having an outstanding experience.  It was also on this occasion that I only saw Bill and Carol from a distance in a conference room as I was already seating in the back with my group when they entered with several UB student athletes.  It was good to see them again, if only from a distance, and to know that ‘Team Greiner’ was still hard at work for UB.

I lost touch with the Greiners many years ago.  They were people with whom I had hoped to maintain a connection, and to share about the traumatic crime that I had experienced.  There was one occasion more than four years after I was victimized that I got the courage to go to the Greiners’ home.  At the time, I worked just down the street from them at Key Bank.

This time, I had resolved that I would tell them about it, and had hoped and prayed that they would welcome me, but they were not at home.  They had the power and influence to make change at UB to help other students who were survivors of traumatic crimes that occurred on campus, as well as to help see that such crimes were prevented and students were educated about them.  I never got the chance to share my ideas with them.

Around that time, and due to being unable to speak with the Greiners about my concerns, I decided to take my concerns to their son, Terry, at his office in Buffalo.  I am an individual who likes to get things accomplished, and to do so personally, and therefore, my aim was to personally-share information with him about what I experienced and request that there could be some way that improvements related to it could be made for other students at UB who had the same or similar experiences.  It took so much courage and initiative for me to go to Terry’s office, but he turned me away, did not speak with me, and did not accept me into his office.  I was devastated, and felt re-victimized all over again.

I do, however, fondly remember the many events and interactions that I shared with Carol and Bill; and I prefer to remember those.  At the time of my writing of this article, it will have been nearly four years since Bill’s death.  When I read the news about his passing in the UB alumni magazine, it was unexpected and saddening.  To Carol, I mailed a sympathy card, expressing my condolences.  I am sure that such a great man is missed by those who knew him, especially his family, who took priority in his life, much as family should.

So, I would like to think – at this time of the holidays – that Bill is looking down over us and helping us to spread holiday cheer to each other.  I would like to think and remember that he would have been right in the mix of all that, and would not have missed it for anything.  Thanks, ‘Team Greiner,’ for all you have done for me, and for all of your unfathomable support to UB.  You are UB’s unsurpassed champions! 🙂

References:

“Bill Greiner.”  Wikipedia, 2013.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Greiner

DellaContrada, J. (2009).  William R. Greiner Dies.  Buffalo, NY: UB – University at Buffalo: News Releases.

State University of New York at Buffalo Graduation, May 1993.  Buffalo, NY.

Special Note:

This article was also published by both the UB Alumni Association on LinkedIn (December 2013).  Mountain View, CA: LinkedIn; and by the State University of New York at Buffalo business group on LinkedIn (December 2013).  Mountain View, CA: LinkedIn.

“Fantastic Swimming Experience at Local Park Pool” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

My Son Enjoying a Summer Swimming Lesson, Briscoe Park, Snellville, Georgia, July 2013

My Son Enjoying a Summer Swimming Lesson, Briscoe Park, Snellville, Georgia, July 2013

For the past five years, my son has taken Summer swimming lessons at Snellville’s Briscoe Park.  For four of those five years, the area business, Positively Pools, has been contracted to provide life guards, swimming instructors, supervisors, and maintenance for the pool.  It is my absolute pleasure to share the overall wonderful experiences my son has had in taking swimming lessons, as well as in swimming recreationally at the pool.

I would like to take this time, therefore, to thank the managers and staff of Briscoe Park, as well as the employees of Positively Pools for consistently providing my family with such outstanding experiences with swimming at Briscoe Park.  Folks such as Justin, Stephen, Amber, Gabby, Deluir, Gabby, and so many others have repeatedly evidenced their exceptional professionalism, customer service, courtesy, and expertise to us. 

Thank you, everyone, for all of your hard work, commitment, and dedication to consistently doing the best of your ability in being flexible, open-minded, professional, courteous, and dedicated.  It is folks like you who help make swimming an enjoyable and safe experience for everyone – and that’s how it should be.  Keep up the great work!

“Happy Father’s Day!” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Father's Day Cards for my Dad, June 16, 2013

Father’s Day Cards for my Dad, June 16, 2013

Wow, it’s Father’s Day already!  The time goes by so fast – year after year, the time flies by.  My dad will be 70 years old this year, and will celebrate his Golden Wedding Anniversary with my mom.  His only grandson turned 10 years old last month; and there’s so much more to come!  This is a big year for my dad.

About my dad, I can say that he has “been there” for me as much as possible and as much as he is able to and capable of.  No doubt, this is much more than many fathers out there, and I am extremely thankful for it.  Throughout my life, I have thought about certain qualities of my dad that I would like for him to practice or exhibit more, though I have come to learn as I have gotten older that one cannot change someone, that it is better to do my best to accept what there is and not change what I cannot.

I am thankful for my dad.  I have a loving, caring, supportive, protective, and wonderful dad.  While he encompasses all of those qualities and more, he is not perfect – as no one is – and I have come to be more accepting of that.  I remember as a child that I would sometimes view other children’s fathers and pick out the qualities in them that I would like to add to my dad.  But then, there were also qualities in the other kids’ dads that I didn’t want in my dad, too.  So, while I already and always love my dad, I came to accept him as he is more as I got older.  Perhaps my view as a child was immature and unrealistic, though I had my ideas of what a dad “should be.”

My dad has definitely earned an A+ in the fathership department.  Every day, he proves himself as a loving, caring husband to my mom, father to me, and grandfather to my son.  He is there for us and does as much as he can for us, with love and compassion in our best interests.  No doubt, there are many others out there who would put up a fight to gain a dad as wonderful as mine.

There are some qualities about my dad that are fitting for him, and that have helped and supported him in his life.  He is not a gossiper, and generally tries not to change others.  While he can be judgmental, he is not political, nor does he have a big ego.  He is not always out to prove himself to others or to the world.  He is simply himself.  Take it or leave it.

And, one has to take time to get to know him in order to fully understand the man whom he is.  As a mother to my dad’s grandson – his only grandchild – I often see a soft spot in his heart for him.  That is wonderful to see and experience, and is something I rarely saw when I was growing up.  It is great to observe that my dad now has the time in his life to invest quality emotion in my son.  He can do that now as a retired senior, and he deserves it after working so hard for most of his life.

My dad is the father to me that his father was not to him.  My dad has been kind, caring, and supportive of me and my son 99% of the time.  For that 1% that he has not been, I understand that the 99% he has given me is his 100%, and that is okay with me.  My father has striven to be the opposite of his own father, in the area of care, love, and compassion toward family.  My dad’s father treated him so terribly that I wonder if he even considers that he was his father.  I feel sorrow and sympathy for my dad that he experienced from his father what no one should experience from anyone.  May God forgive his father for not being a “father” in the true essence of the word.

So, on this Father’s Day, it is time to show our thankfulness, respect, and appreciation to our fathers, particularly those who are loving, caring, compassionate, and supportive.  Perhaps the dads who do not embody those qualities will have good role models in those who do.  We must remember, and be blessed and thankful for our loving and good fathers.  Thank you, Dad; and Happy Father’s Day!

“Happy Mother’s Day!” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

My Son's Mother's Day Drawing of and Message to Me, May 9, 2013

My Son’s Mother’s Day Drawing of and Message to Me, May 9, 2013

This week, I was voted #1 mom in the world by my son!  🙂  Being a mom is a wonderful thing!  It is an experience that cannot be replaced, and must be lived every moment of every day.  I love being a mom to my son.  As a mom, I do my best to invest as much quality time and care into him as possible.  Each and every day, I feel and know that I have been blessed by God to be a mom.  My child is the only one I will ever have; and I always do my best to act in ways that will benefit him. 

Not only do I have compassion, care, understanding, and nurturance for my own child, I am concerned for the welfare and well-being of all children.  Children live in a world that caters to adults, including adult interests, needs, and wants.  Sometimes, people overlook what is most beneficial for children, and make decisions and take actions that best serve adults.  As a society that I hope becomes more enlightened, I am one who encourages increased understanding, appreciation, rights, and protections for children.  And as a mom, I believe this is imperative for the benefit and well-being of my child, as well as children throughout the world.

On this Mother’s Day, let us honor, remember, and appreciate our moms.  And, for those of us who are moms, let us remember why we became moms.  Each mother is a role model for her children, and has been given a great responsibility to raise, care for, protect, and nurture her child(ren).  In our world of increasing adult self-interests, it is vitally important to remember and support mothers, so that they can provide for and do what is best for their children.    Thank you to my son and extended family for remembering, honoring, appreciating – and most of all – loving me on this Mother’s Day.  🙂

“Completed Suicide Risk Highest Within First Six Months After Incomplete Suicide” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Child mental health is becoming an area of ever-increasing concern and research, including within the area of child sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, suicidality, and bullying that lead to suicide.  Recently, within the past two months, I had opportunities to visit a large metropolitan hospital in Atlanta at which mental health care is provided on an inpatient and outpatient basis for people of all ages.  I primarily made observations in the children’s mental health unit in which children from ages 4-12 were hospitalized as inpatients.

Since making my observations, I have done much research in the area of medicine and counseling related to depression, anxiety, suicidality, and bullying that ultimately ends in the suicide of the victim.  I have also consulted with many professionals in these areas, including pediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed professional counselors.  Further, I have communicated with school teachers, school administrators, school mental health professionals, school system administrators, and religious about these issues.  This blog article will share some of what I discovered related to these critically important issues in mental health care.

At the hospital in Atlanta at which I made my observations regarding inpatient child mental healthcare, the most significant part about it that was very noticeable was that most of the children were boys.  On one particular day, there were 16 children housed in the unit, and 12 of them were boys, with the majority of the boys being African-American.  Of the girls present, the majority of them were Caucasian.  It was also my understanding that the majority of the boys were hospitalized due to suicidality (and/or other mental health concerns related to it, such as depression, anxiety, and/or sexual and/or physical abuse or neglect).

To me as an untrained observer, I found this to be very significant because my personal expectation was to observe there to be a greater number of girls than boys present in the unit.  Because there were significantly fewer girls than boys present in the unit over a period of several days, it became important to me to understand the reasons for it.  I got to thinking about several possibilities to explain this reality.

Perhaps girls are more open about their feelings and experiences, and/or a depressed or otherwise upset mood in girls may be more visible to others.  Perhaps boys are keeping their feelings too much to themselves due to the societal and cultural expectations for them to “be a man,” and thus, not to show their feelings.  Possibly, adults were unable to recognize signs of suicidality or depression in boys compared to girls.

Further, it may be possible that adults did not view boys’ depression or suicidality to be as serious as that of girls until a crisis point was reached.  Culturally, it is also significant that most of the children housed in the unit were African-American boys.  Specifically related to cultural or ethnic differences, I do not yet have particular potential explanations for this.  Additionally, perhaps there are other general explanations and reasons that I have not thought of for there being significantly more boys in the unit than girls.

As I stated previously, since the time of my observations of the children’s mental health unit in the metro Atlanta hospital, I have researched several issues relating to child mental health, and I have consulted with many professionals in the field.  In a study completed by Cynthia R. Pfeffer (2001, p. 1057), she stated that during prospective follow-up into adulthood of children at risk for suicide showed that a “history of sexual abuse (RR: 5.71, 95%; CI: 1.9-16.7) imparted the greatest risk” for it.  Reading this was saddening and disheartening for me because it appears that most suicide attempters and commiters have internalized their pain and suffering, are taking it out on themselves, and appear not to be able to successfully cope.  They were hurt, have lost hope and trust, and are now hurting themselves, possibly in efforts to make the painful memories disappear.  For them, suicide seems to be the only answer for removing and escaping the emotional pain.

In a study by Stanley, Brown, Brent, Wells, Poling, Curry, Kennard, Wagner, Cwik, Klomek, Goldstein, Vitiello, Barnett, Daniel, and Hughes (2009, p. 1005), the researchers reported that individuals who attempted incomplete suicide are at the greatest risk for repeat attempts and/or actually committing suicide within the first six months following the incomplete attempt (as this study particularly relates to adolescents, aged 13-19 years old).  This is extremely important to understand because those who are untrained in this area do not understand the seriousness or severity of it, or are, perhaps, in denial that the situation is serious or severe.  Regarding children, I believe this particularly applies to those in education, including teachers, administrators, and other staff because they are not equipped with the knowledge and understanding about the manner in which to best support students who have been suicidal.

And sometimes, those adults in education who are bullies toward children truly have absolutely no understanding or compassion toward students who made an incomplete attempt at suicide because they simply do not seem to care.  In fact, those type of adults may even do more damage to the child through their insensitivity and failure to understand the situation by being even more punitive or retaliatory toward the student because the issue is one with which they, themselves, are unable to successfully cope.  It remains easier for such adult bullies of students in education to bully, blame, and revictimize the student victim.

Also unhelpful are the student peer bullies with whom the suicide attempt survivor must cope.  Student peer bullies of the victim seem to bully the survivor even more because they are aware of the emotional vulnerability of the survivor, and they capitalize on that because it makes them feel good.  Therefore, in a school environment in which bullying goes unchecked, unresolved, and not corrected, suicide attempt survivors are at an even greater risk for a future successful suicide attempt because they experience bullying from adults and peers.

Additionally, O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock (2012, p. 15) reported in their study that “psychotherapy did not reduce the risk for suicide attempts in adolescents in contrast to adults.”  They (O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock, 2012, p. 11) further reported that “psychotherapy did not reduce suicide attempts in adolescents at 6 to 18 months” into a suicide prevention treatment program.  They (O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock, 2012, p. 11) also stated that “psychotherapy had no beneficial effect on suicide ideation beyond usual care” in adolescents.  These findings are shocking, disturbing, and disheartening, particularly when there may be the extant societal belief that counseling and psychotheraphy benefit individuals with emotional disturbances and/or self-destructive ideations.  If psychotherapy is not beneficial to adolescents who have attempted suicide and/or who have suicidal ideation, what benefit is psychotherapy to children who have had similar experiences and/or beliefs?

A professional friend of mine who is a psychiatrist provided me with an article written by a women who is a sexual abuse survivor, and who was hospitalized on three occasions throughout her life due to depression and suicidality related to her traumatic experiences.  The article, “How ‘Person-Centered’ Care Helped Guide me Toward Recovery from Mental Illness,” by Ashley R. Clayton (2013), was extremely helpful to me in better-understanding what is going through someone’s mind when they are hospitalized for a mental health crisis.  The article was further assistive to me because, as a graduate student in counseling who is working on my second master’s degree, it was important for me to perceive and understand the great value of Person-Centered Therapy in counseling suicide and sexual abuse survivors.

Because so much hope and trust has been lost in survivors of sexual abuse and suicide, it is obviously critically important for others, including mental health professionals, to be as sensitive and supportive as possible of them.  The author shared that she experienced the greatest improvement through the person-centered approach and caring relationship that a particular nurse developed with her.  This is something important for me to remember and put into practice in my own counseling of trauma survivors.

Further regarding children’s mental health in relation to surviving trauma and suicide attempts, as well as those areas in relation to children’s school attendance, I spoke with two pediatricians regarding the issues.  Both pediatricians took the issues seriously, however, they did not desire to take responsibility for children who were suicidal because they stated they were not trained or highly-experienced in those areas.  Both pediatricians also desired for parents to work with the expectations of schools, even though such expectations, stresses, and pressures may be too overwhelming for some children.  Regarding the experience of child sexual abuse, both pediatricians believed that counseling was needed for child survivors, however they both believed that medication to manage the child survivors’ moods were necessary as long as they believed the child was “functioning.”

For me, the perspectives of both pediatricians – both of whom are Caucasian women with many years of experience in pediatrics – were discouraging in many areas.  First, both doctors appeared to be very quick in the desire to refer suicidal patients to other medical professionals.  While that has advantages and disadvantages, it places those at risk in the position of believing that their doctors are unable to properly care for or understand them.  Both also believed that child survivors of sexual abuse need not be medicated if they were “functioning.”  I believe that it is one thing to survive, and quite another thing to thrive.  Merely “functioning” is not fully living or thriving, to me.  And also, both pediatricians appeared to also be too quick to go along with schools’ expectations for students, including maintaining the same academic and/or disciplinary standards for students who are trauma survivors.  As an individual who is an experienced teacher, I know that students have different learning styles; placing everyone in the same category is detrimental to those who have suffered trauma.

Both a psychologist and a licensed professional counselor (LPC) with whom I consulted about difficult, damaging, challenging, and/or overly stressful and overwhelming school experiences of child trauma survivors both believed that people in education are or may be unable and/or unwilling to change in a manner that is more supportive, understanding, and compassionate toward them.  The psychologist believed there is not likely any school that would be able to meet the needs of a child who is a trauma survivor.  And, both the psychologist and the LPC believed that schools are part of the problem in not successfully supporting and understanding trauma survivors and their needs.  Those who are in education – perhaps including school counselors and school psychologists – may be unequipped in schools at being able to fully or successfully support children who are trauma survivors; this can and does have devastating effects on such children.

Of all those in the medical and mental health fields, I believe those who are most fully trained and equipped to successfully both treat and understand trauma survivors – in particular, those who have experienced sexual trauma, depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts – are psychiatrists.  Psychiatrists are in the best position to provide urgent and necessary medical and mental health care to suicide attempters, including hospitalization, evaluations, medical care, and medications.

I assume that the psychiatrists are those who most often see patients who are suicide attempters; and they see them at their lowest points, emotionally.  Therefore, psychiatrists who truly have what is best for their patients in mind seem to help suicide attempters and trauma survivors become stabilized and recover as quickly as possible.  Psychiatrists are in a wonderful position with their patients to be supportive, understanding, and compassionate; and to inform and educate society, in general, about the medical issues and needs experienced by suicide attempters and other trauma survivors.

In communicating with several people who are education professionals regarding survivors of sexual trauma, suicide attempts, and bullying (both by peers and adults in school), I have largely encountered  biases against the survivors, as well as an incredible absence of sensitivity toward them.  Such refusals of understanding, sensitivity, and compassion toward survivors by the majority of education professionals with whom I communicated can possibly be attributed to a lack of or refusal toward being educated and informed about the needs of the survivors.  Such outright insensitivity by the education professionals – the majority of those who were insensitive toward survivors were administrators – could also be attributed to a denial about the seriousness or severity, or fear due to stigmas or the unknown, regarding the issues related to survivors.

In some situations of communicating with administrators, upper administrators, and school psychologists of schools and school systems related to student survivors of sexual trauma, anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, and bullying, I also encountered not only insensitivity and a lack of understanding toward the survivors, but also inconsistencies in their behaviors toward them.  In most school and/or school system administrative personnel and school psychologists with whom I communicated, I encountered adult bullying by them toward the child survivors that was sadistic.  In such education professionals, it appeared that their incredible harshness toward the survivors was something that they wanted to occur, regardless of the outcome or effects that may or may not have resulted in actual suicide.

In other situations in communicating with education professionals about such survivors, however, I encountered empathy, compassion, understanding, and sensitivity toward them.  Such supportive actions were those exhibited by other particular school system administrative personnel and/or educators and counselors.  Such desparities in the treatment of survivors by various school personnel reflects that education professionals must be on the same page in order to consistently understand and support, as well as be compassionate and sensitive toward survivors.  This appears to be direly and desperately needed in education in order that students who are trauma and suicide attempt survivors receive the greatest possible support and understanding in their educational environments.

Therefore, it was personally extremely shocking and disturbing to me in a life-changing manner that some of the very leaders of schools and school systems not only do not support said survivors, but are actually bullying and sadistic toward them.  In these situations, I believe it would take not less than a miracle to convince such individuals to even consider a different and more positive and understanding perspective toward said survivors.

In regard to particular religious leaders with whom I have communicated about issues related to survivors of child sexual abuse, anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, and bullying, I have – thus far – experienced their compassion, kindness, and prayers toward survivors.  I have also learned, however, to carefully choose which religious to approach; not all religious are as understanding and supportive as others.  And, I am further aware that there are those religious who would take such information and use it against the victims and/or survivors in order to revictimize them.  Presently, however, that is not what I have experienced in my recent and present communications with particular religious about these issues related to survivors; and I am thankful for and relieved about that.

I believe that society has come a long way in supporting and understanding the experiences and needs of trauma survivors, including those who have experienced sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, trauma, bullying, and suicide attempts, however there is still much more progress to be made.  Those who best-recover from traumatic experiences are those who have positive, stable support in their lives.  Stressful and overwhelming situations are serious set-backs that only cause them to regress, and to continue not to hope or trust.

It is so critically important for sexual abuse survivors and suicide attempt survivors to have the consistent and unconditional support of those around them, including family members, community members, those who are in education, and others.  Without such support, compassion, and understanding – and, in fact, if the survivor experiences the opposite of those – he or she could make a future suicide attempt that is successful.  Such tragedies are avoidable and preventable if everyone practiced more patient, respect, appreciation, and compassion toward each other, particularly trauma survivors who have attempted suicide.

References

Clayton, A.R. (2013).  “How ‘Person-Centered’ care helped guide me toward recovery from mental illness.”  Health Affairs, 32 (3), pp. 622-626.

O’Connor, E., Gaynes, B.N., Burda, B.U., Soh, C., & Whitlock, E.P. (2012).  “Screening for and treatment of suicide risk relevant to primary care.”  Annals of Internal Medicine, pp. 1-22; pp. W-1 – W-5.

Pfeffer, C.R. (2001).  “Diagnosis of childhood and adolescent suicidal behavior: Unmet needs for suicide prevention.”  Society of Biological Psychiatry, 49, pp. 1055-1061.

Stanley, B., Brown, G., Brent, D.A., Wells, K., Poling, K., Curry, J., Kennard, B.D., Wagner, A., Cwik, M.F., Klomek, A.B., Goldstein, T., Vitiello, B., Barnett, S., Daniel, S., & Hughes, J. (2009).  “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for suicide prevention (CBT-SP): Treatment model feasibility, and acceptability.”  Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 48 (10), pp. 1005-1013.

“Part of the Problem, or Part of the Solution” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

It is very upsetting, discouraging, disappointing, and disturbing when one approaches another to seek improvement in and/or resolution to a particular matter, and the other person contributes to being part of the problem by not being understanding or supportive about it, rather than being part of the solution.  I experienced this several times, already, this week in relation to school situations.  The person for whom it is most upsetting and disturbing is the child who directly experiences it.  It is always discouraging to experience situations in which the words and behaviors of school employees are part of the problem.  It is encouraging when their words and actions contribute to solutions.

When a family is spending more money on a private school education for their child, they expect more in every area.  Expected is more support, more understanding, more sensitivity, and at least, fairness, particuarly in situations about which upper administration and administration are informed, regardless of by whom they are informed.  Expected is a positive experience for their child.  Expected is fairness, without bullying of the child by either peers or adults.  As one often finds, unfairness and a lack of sensitivity and understanding may be the norm.  Such a norm should not be tolerated or accepted by anyone, nor experienced by the child.

Therefore, people – particularly those in education who work with children every day – can be a part of the problem or a part of the solution.  I much prefer that they be part of the solution, and that it be a positive solution at that.  Situations in which a particular child is repeatedly blamed for standing up for himself or herself to peer bullies who belittle and degrade him – especially in a Christian environment that is supposed to promote Christian values – are particularly frustrating. 

Worse is the educator and/or administrator who can say nothing positive about the child who has stood up for himself or herself, and instead, always finds fault and harshly punishes the child.  Such educators and administrators should be ashamed of themselves for their repeated unfairness, for repeatedly supporting the bullies.  Never do those child bullies receive any consequences for their actions; their words and actions are repeatedly supported.  The victim of the bullying is repeatedly blamed.  Psychologically, this is the blaming of the victim routine.  Unnecessarily, it typically happens to the same child or children who stand up for themselves to the bullies.

It was the same for me when I was in school.  A bully provoked, and provoked, and provoked, and finally, when I stood up for myself, I was blamed and punished by school officials.  The bully who provoked the situation received no consequences, and behaved as though she was the victim to garner more support.  The same types of situations occurred toward my parents and other family members when they were in school.  School should not be a place in which people experience bullying, however it is and has been throughout generations.

I try to teach my child to be patient with others, that when others bully or provoke him, it is their problem.  However, it is difficult and challenging for any child to tolerate or accept being bullied.  In a Christian environment, with a Christian background and upbringing, I try to teach my child to turn the other cheek.  However, others typically perceive those as weak who are patient, kind, and who turn the other cheek. 

Unfortunately, and from what I have found throughout my own life experiences, the most productive way to cause a bully to stop bullying you is to give the bully back some of their own medicine.  For people who are kind, nice, caring, and compassionate, it completely goes against one’s personality to do so.  However, in doing so, the bully typically leaves you alone after that.  They discover that their perception of you was incorrect.  They discover that you have surprised them by standing up to their bullying, to their provocations, to their harsh words and actions. 

I want the best for my child.  I want my child to enjoy going to school.  My child receives and excellent education, however I repeatedly encourage the practice of increased sensitivity, patience, positive reinforcement, support, and understanding.  I do this every year.  Some are more supportive and understanding than others; some will never change. 

There are few who hold the high standards that I do of being caring, compassionate, patient, supportive, sensitive toward, and understanding of children.  To those few, I deeply appreciate you; you are part of the solution.  However, it is those who refuse to see and practice a different and better way who are part of the problem, who contribute to the regression and/or detriment of the child. 

Those who are part of the problem, rather than part of the solution, should not be in education.  They are not positive role models for children.  In this day and age, we desperately need more and more positive role models for children.  So, when are things going to change for the better rather than for the worse?  Positive change and a reassessment toward needed support for children who are repeated targets of bullies is imperative – it is imperative!  Fairness and support are imperative, rather than unfairness and a lack of support!  It is exactly this type of unfairness and lack of support that leads to bullicide – the suicide of students who are bullied, by peers or by adults.  By then, it is too late, and another life has been tragically lost.

Therefore, I encourage each of you to be positive role models for children, and to always be part of the solution – whether in education or any other area – rather than part of the problem!  Be a positive role model for children.  Be open to thinking of saying or doing things in a different and better way.  Be sensitive toward, and considerate, understanding, and supportive of children, for the sake of their mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and physical well-being!

“Schools’ Inconsistently-Enforced Policies on Bullying Continue it, Supporting Offenders” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

School bullying has become more of a major issue these days due to the extent of some of it that has led to serious injuries and/or suicides of student victims.  My own LinkedIn group, ‘People Against Retaliation and Bullying’ focuses on bullying and retaliation, the many ways in which children and adults bully each other, and the many unnecessary, tragic suicides – called ‘bullicides’ – of many young people.  😦

All one has to do is to search for “student suicides” and/or “bullicides” online, and the names, photos, and stories of many young people are provided of those who have killed themselves due to bullying.  Students such as Phoebe Prince, Rachel Ehmke, Jessica Laney, Felicia Garcia, Joshua Pacheco, Kristina Calco, and Jared High took their own lives due to bullying.  A website by Christopher Burgess includes an article titled, “Bullying: The 34 we Lost in 2010 to Bullycide,” found at http://www.burgessct.com/2011/02/bullying-rip/ .  😦

And, there are so many more who are bullied, repeatedly in school, including my own child.  My brother and I were bullied when we were in school, my parents were bullied when they were in school, and my own child has been bullied in school.  Because my child is very good and kind, and is considerate of others’ feelings, I find that he tends to be bullied even more, not only by his peers, but by adults, as well.

Fairly recently, in a meeting with several school employees at a particular school regarding a young student, one teacher informed me that everyone experiences a certain amount of bullying, that we all have experienced it.  My question is why is she so accepting of it?  Why is she so tolerant of it?  What if one of her students committed suicide due to bullying?  Why does she – and others – allow it to continue?  To me, these attitudes about bullying are unacceptable, and I can, therefore, provide an explanation for why bullying occurs and why it continues.

Bullying is nothing less than psychological violence by one or more people toward one or more others.  It appears to me that children – and adults – who are insecure about themselves and/or others have a need to bully, harass, degrade, and/or otherwise put others down.  Why?  Because it raises them up!  Putting others down makes them feel good!  They have absolutely no regard or consideration for the manner in which their words and/or actions hurt their targets and victims.  They have not been taught to have regard or consideration for others’ feelings, values, perspectives, needs.  They are selfish and insecure, and seek to demean and devalue others out of their own flawed egos.

When my own child is bullied by others – including peers and adults – I have repeatedly told him that others act in such a manner because they have a problem.  This is truly what I believe – that they do, in fact, have the problem.  And, sadly, often when kids bully other kids – or when adults bully other adults – it becomes like a gang mentality in which the bully enlists other bullies to bully the victim.  It has happened to me, it has happened to my child.

Even so, the bullies have no idea of the damage and pain they have caused their targets and victims.  They have absolutely no clue, and they truly believe that they have done no wrong, even going so far as to deny or lie about their injurious words and/or actions.  Time and again, I have interacted with school principals and school teachers who have denied the truth – to my face – in order to save their own skin.  Heaven forbid they are not always professional and/or exceptional.  Would it not be better to acknowledge the issues, and deal proactively with the problems, solving them and making improvements?  How can bullies see that there are any problems when they are, in fact, bullies themselves?  This is a big root of the issue.

I am personally aware of a couple of recent issues related to bullying of a youngster who is close to me.  In one situation, a peer bully repeatedly taunted and pestered his target to look at a picture in a book of which the target was afraid.  The target has a phobia of the creature that was pictured in the book.  The target told the bully, repeatedly, that he did not want to see the book or the picture.  The bully forced the target to look at the picture by placing the book in front of him.  The bully then stated to the target that he (the target) could do anything he wanted to the book.  Therefore, the target scribbled, lightly in pencil over the picture of the creature in the book of which he has a phobia. 

The bully not only misled the target, but also betrayed him by informing their teacher that the target had defaced his book.  When the target tried to explain the situation to the teacher, the teacher did not listen.  Instead, the teacher sent the target to the principal’s office, where the target (who has outstanding behavior, I might add) was issued a lengthy detention of 45 minutes (which is also a greater amount of time than school policy!) for the situation.  When the target attempted to explain what occurred to the assistant administrator who issued the consequences, she also did not listen to him.  In addition, the target was required to write an apology letter to the bully. 

This, by the way, was the second instance in which the particular bully instigated a situation that caused a reaction by the target, causing the target to be blamed and receive consequences, including the severe consequences of the lengthy detention.  The target felt so hurt, sad, and betrayed by the actions of everyone involved that he no longer wanted to go to school, and worse, which I will not comment on here. 

However, this is a perfect example of bullying, victim-blaming, and how others’ refusal to consider and account for the entire situation causes repeatedly-targeted children to feel sad, hopeless, betrayed, and unsupported.  Such lacks of consideration, compassion, and understanding are unnecessary; and I find that they are generally lacking to an even greater extent when the teacher’s son is the bully and/or a teacher’s children attend the school in which she teaches.

In another example of bullying experienced by someone close to me, a boy and his friend approached another boy and some girls on the playground at recess.  The two boys simply wanted to play with the others.  The bully repeatedly physically pushed the target on several places on his body, including his back, chest, and arm.  The target yelled at the bully to stop, but the bully didn’t stop.  The target’s friend supported the target in telling the bully to stop, but the bully didn’t stop.  The target, therefore, became so upset that he ran away from the bully.

When the situation was investigated by the teachers of the students involved, based on the report to them by a parent of the target, it was confirmed by the students that what was reported was what occurred.  However, rather than the teacher(s) sending the bully to the principal’s office and/or even documenting any disciplinary consequences toward the bully, they (the teachers) left it up to the children to come up with their own solution!  Does this situation scream of unfairness?  Does it obviously reflect inconsistency in policy?  Does it show a lack of understanding and sensitivity toward the feelings of the victim?  I answer, “Yes” to each of those questions.

What ended up happening is that, indeed, the bully and the target where given the responsibility by their teachers to devise their own solution.  The boys decided to write apology letters to each other – the one boy for repeatedly pushing the other boy, and the second boy for yelling at the other boy to stop pushing him!  Can you believe this?!  So, not only has the target been bullied, but he has been revictimized by having to write his own apology letter to the bully for standing up for himself!  Further, no official disciplinary documentation of any sort was made regarding the bully who did all of the pushing on the other boy!  Therefore, the teachers have reflected that this sort of situation is entirely acceptable and tolerable, and even worse, they supported the victim being revictimized rather than fair, consistent justice occurring in the matter.  This situation was not taken seriously, nor handled effectively, especially in regard to the target.

This is exactly how bullying among school students goes potentially “unnoticed” and unresolved.  This is exactly how bullying among students continues.  This is exactly how students such as those who are bullied become even more reluctant to inform on their peers – and, after awhile, actually do not inform against their peers – for bullying them – when they (the victims, themselves) are blamed and/or revictimized, and/or no effective solution or official documentation is made about the bullying they experienced. 

This type of bullying on a repeated basis by a student’s peers, teachers, and/or administrators is exactly what causes targets to believe that they are not valued, unsupported, hated, and to believe that they are better off dead.  Sadly, the bullies still believe they are doing no wrong.  They have no consideration or regard for the feelings of the victim.  Even after students actually kill themselves, they often still believe that they have done no wrong and no harm. 

I wish we had schools in which everyone was kind to each other.  I wish we had schools in which everyone could just be friends.  I wish that everyone could be more kind, compassionate, understanding, considerate, and sensitive toward each other.  Repeated bullying, including hurtful words by a child’s peers and authority figures in their lives, critically harms the developing egos of many youngsters and youth.  Such repeated bullying and the refusal of others to understand, consider, and/or take seriously it’s negative effects does cause youngsters and youth to kill themselves. 

Increased positive change is needed in order to stop bullying.  Let us not become tolerant and accepting of bullying or bullicide.  Let us take a stand against it, requiring sensitivity training of our school teachers and administrators.  Let us teach children and youth to respect, accept, and appreciate each other’s similarities and differences.  Let us find joy and growth in diversity.  Let us stomp out bullying and bullicide by raising the bar of understanding, compassion, consideration, and sensitivity for everyone.  Let us not revictimize the victims.  Let us not support the offenders and their bullying words and actions.  The time is now to open our eyes to bullying and it’s harmful effects, or more will be lost to this unnecessary social tragedy. 😦

References:

Christopher Burgess.  “Bullying: The 34 we Lost in 2010 to Bullycide.”  http://www.burgessct.com/2011/02/bullying-rip/.  Retrieved on February 16, 2013.

Helen Pow.  “‘I can’t.  I’m done.  I give up:’  Bullied teen jumps to her death in front of train as schoolmates look on in horror just days after harrowing tweet.”  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2223133/Felicia-Garcia-suicide-Bullied-teen-jumps-death-train-schoolmates-look-horror-just-days-harrowing-tweet.html .  Mail Online (October 25, 2012).  Retrieved on February 16, 2013.

“In Memory of Jared High.”  http://www.jaredstory.com/kristina.html .  Retrieved on February 16, 2013.

Jessica Alaney.  “R.I.P. Jessica Laney.”  http://www.bullyville.com/?page=story&id=5735 .  Bullyville.com (December 11, 2012).  Retrieved on February 16, 2013.

Michelle Calco.  “Kristina’s Story.”  http://www.jaredstory.com/kristina.html .  Retrieved on February 16, 2013.

“Rachel Emkhe, 13 Year Old Minnesota Student, Commits Suicide.”  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/08/rachel-ehmke-13-year-old-_n_1501143.html .  Huffington Post. com (May 8, 2012).  Retrieved on February 16, 2013.

Sarah Schuch.  “Parents blame bullying for son’s suicide: Linden High School junior remembered for love of theater.”  http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2012/12/parents_blame_bullying_for_son.html .  Retrieved on February 16, 2013.

“Suicide of Phoebe Prince.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_of_Phoebe_Prince .  Retrieved on February 16, 2013.

“Orchard Park Central School District (New York): Truly an Exceptional School System” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

There are schools out there that are truly outstanding and exceptional.  It is unfortunate that, all too often, those schools, school districts, and/or school systems that are truly outstanding and exceptional do not receive greater attention and recognition.  The Orchard Park Central School District in Western New York State is one such truly excellent, admirable, inspiring, outstanding, and exceptional school system.  It is located in an affluent suburb of Buffalo, New York.  And, it is a school system that is composed of six schools, including one high school, one middle school, and four elementary schools.  I will take the liberty of sharing some of the many incredibly excellent qualities of this school system.

More than one decade ago, I had the pleasure and privilege of being employed as a substitute teacher for two years within Orchard Park Central Schools, while I was completing my teacher certification requirements in secondary social studies education.  I was called upon to substitute teach nearly every day during the academic year, being offered and having taken opportunities to be a daily and short-term substitute teacher.  Most of the experience that I had in substitute teaching at Orchard Park was in high school special education as well as in middle school core subjects, though I also substituted in all subject areas throughout elementary, middle, and high schools there.  My experience substitute teaching during the two years that I was at Orchard Park were like no other that I have ever had in their excellence, whether as a substitute teacher, salaried teacher, or voluntary teacher.

What I experienced while subbing in the Orchard Park Central School District were many wonderful things.  People throughout the school system were caring, compassionate, kind, hard-working, flexible, understanding, professional individuals with high standards and expectations, integrity, values, and insightfulness.  They were well-educated, open-minded, creative, and thought outside-of-the-box.  They were not rigid, inflexible, or set in their ways.  They were people who – though their instruction, policies, and practices were already outstanding – were always finding new ways of performing better, achieving more, being the best they could be. 

People at Orchard Park, when I was there, were those who communicated and interacted well with each other.  They always wanted the best for the students.  The focus was not on themselves, not on hiding their own rare errors or human imperfections, but on being positive role models and guides for students.  They were professionals who supported each other in positive ways and raised themselves and each other up.  They were positive with each other, but also provided constructive – not condeming – criticism of and toward each other when it was necessary, in order to strengthen and improve the quality of their education and standards, not causing it to regress. 

These were people who were confident enough in themselves to know that the greater community was supportive of them, and they trusted that students’ parents understood that they always acted in the manner to best benefit the children.  Trust was mutual between school professionals and students’ parents because those school employees always exemplified the best in instruction, education, discipline, safety, care, compassion, concern, standards, policies, honesty, and professionalism.  In these ways, the mutual bond of trust and confidence between school and home was also reflected in the confidence, trust, and performance of the students – in all levels and in all areas. 

If something could be improved, administrators and teachers fairly-reviewed the situation, and enhanced instruction, education, standards, and/or policies, making things better for everyone.  Academic standards are those that are most important at Orchard Park, and certain high school teachers would sacrifice several Saturdays throughout the academic year to come to school on their own time to review with and drill students to better-prepare them for important standardized tests.  Core middle school teaching teams often met with parents in conferences to inform parents of their child’s performance and progress, as well as things that were going well, things that could be improved, and anything else that was noticeable about the child, particularly those positive and more personal qualities and characteristics. 

Teachers and administrators at Orchard Park went out of their way to make the school experience not only a professional experience, but also a personal one for everyone, most particularly the students.  In this way, students, parents, and families genuinely felt valued, important, honored, respected, and understood.  It was good to be kind, caring, compassionate, encouraging, supportive, and nurturing toward students.  That is what was sought, wanted, desired in the professionals at Orchard Park. 

Lines of communication between the school, families, and community were always open.  Compliments and criticisms were accepted, heard, and appreciated.  When an administrator or teacher heard something they did not want to hear from another about themselves, they did not lash out with concealed vengeance in any way to somehow get back at the student and/or the student’s family.  School administrators and teachers at Orchard Park were both professional enough and honorable enough to take in what was said, reflect upon it, and improve.  They did not ignore, deny, or overlook the situation, nor did they blame others – including the child – instead of perceiving their own actions and/or gaining feedback from other colleagues.  They always tried to perform in the best manner for the students.

So much openmindedness, flexibility, and creativity is present in and throughout the Orchard Park Central School District.  High School seniors were afforded opportunities to participate in “Open Campus,” a time during which they could leave campus for certain parts of the day to perform other actions or responsibilities.  A great number of clubs and extracurricular activities, including art, music, theater, sports, language, and other activities were also available to students to expand their horizons and fulfill their creative endeavors. 

More recently, the school district implemented the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program within the school system.  When I was at Orchard Park, though I did not perceive any serious issues related to peer-to-peer bullying, and though I believed the policies toward student respectfulness were excellent, there were those rare occasions when students were bullied, more particularly certain high school students who appeared different and/or did not fit in with the mainstream in some way.  The openmindedness, flexibility, and creativity in the folks at Orchard Park Central School District are what has allowed the implementation of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, already reflecting reported improvements in reducing bullying and improving peer respectfulness toward each other. 

The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, as well as sharing with the community about any sex offenders living in the district, as well as other programs, are those that place the Orchard Park Central School District on the cutting edge of progressive, exceptional school systems.  The professionalism, integrity, intelligence, compassion, and appropriate personalization of the district’s faculty and staff – as well as the support they receive from the greater community and school board – are also what place the school system in the forefront of educational systems – whether public, private or parochial. 

When one works in the Orchard Park Central School District, he or she feels and is supported, much like one would experience within their own family.  Because such professionalism, support, trust, intelligence, and confidence are prevalent within the school system among adults, these qualities and values are also purveyed to the children and students.  Also, because so many adults within the school students’ families are educated and maintain high standards and expectations, this is also what is often reflected within the students, as well.  Not only are the students generally intelligent and creative, but they are typically respectful and honorable.

It was most certainly my pleasure and privilege to have been employed as a substitute teacher within the Orchard Park Central School District more than one decade ago.  Though I applied to the school system for a salaried teaching position once I acquired my educator certification, I believe that I did not have enough of a stake, influence, or network within the community to be considered.  Orchard Park would have been my dream school system within which to teach as a full-time educator.  Though such an opportunity was not afforded to me, I will always carry the memories of the wonderful experiences that I had within this outstanding, exceptional school system.  Thank you, Orchard Park, for being the best you can be, and for always striving to do even better…for the students!

References:

Orchard Park Central School District.  January 18, 2013.  http://www.opschools.org/spotlight.cfm?&school=0 .

Orchard Park Central School District.  “Olweus” (Bullying Prevention Program.)  January 18, 2013.  http://www.opschools.org/spotlight.cfm?sp=6&start=1&end=25&school=0 .

“The Many Ways in Which School Children are Bullied by School Employees” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Bullying and retaliation are issues that have come to the forefront of our society in recent years.  There is bullying in schools.  There is bullying in the workplace.  There is bullying in social organizations.  There is bullying that occurs in society, in general.  Bullies, themselves, feel good and empowered when they bully others.  They get to throw their weight around, intimidating, degrading, ridiculing, humiliating others.  Bullying in schools definitely creates a downward spiral in the morale of the school.  When students must protect themselves from their bullyish peers as well as adults who are bullies, a stressful and hostile atmosphere is present at schools for these children.

Many victims of bullying keep it to themselves, thinking they can handle it, and they often end up being more taunted, more bullied, and then, the bullying escalates.  Some victims of bullying are pushed over the edge, believe they are worthless, are convinced that they are nothing, and kill themselves.  Other victims of bullying try to stand up for themselves – some are successful in defeating and overcoming their bullies, while others are disbelieved and/or do not receive the support they need from adults to whom they go for help.

In schools, sometimes students get a double whammy with bullying.  Not only are they bullied by certain peers, but they are also bullied by particular adults who are school employees of the school.  What is worse is when the very leaders of the school practice bullying through policies that lack sensitivity, flexibility, and understanding.  Policies in which minor mistakes and insignificant misbehaviors of children such as talking without permission, for example, are enforced by requiring students to run several laps, serve a lengthy detention, or in some schools, be paddled, are excessive, unnecessary, and reflect an authoritarian, punitive, unforgiving, and bullying atmosphere in the school. 

In one school with which I am familiar, a parent survey was issued to students’ families within the past one year that asked many questions about various factors related to the quality of the school.  Regarding bullying, 26% of respondents reported that bullying is a problem at the school.  What is truly sad is that bullying is more of an issue regarding adults bullying students than with students bullying students.  And, of course, when students see adults bullying their peers, they believe it is acceptable, and bully their peers, as well.  What is even more sad is that the adults who are bullies and whose policies are bullyish do not recognize it, they do not care, and the situation worsens, becoming more institutionalized.

There are many ways in which school children are bullied by school employees in schools.  Some of those ways include: 1) issuing excessive disciplinary consequences and punishments for minor misbehaviors; 2) requiring students to run laps as punishment and/or discipline; 3) not providing, denying, ignoring, and/or overlooking needed services to the student; 4) not contacting the parents or guardians when the student has been severely injured at school; 5) denying a sick child the opportunity to see the school nurse or clinician and to go home; 6) denying and/or preventing the student from receiving guidance counseling or other counseling services when requested; 7) not reporting actual abuse or neglect of students to the proper authorities; and 8) issuing unspoken punishments to students that are not identified in the school and/or student handbook.

Additional ways that school employees bully school children include: 9) issuing punishments and/or disciplinary consequences that are more excessive than what is identified in the school and/or student handbook; 10) blaming the child for misbehavior that the adult could have improved by providing the child with greater care and understanding; 12) not recognizing and/or praising the student for outstanding academics or accomplishments; 13) outright lying about and/or misconstruing the truth about situations involving the child; 14) not keeping confidences about the child; and 15) different school employees throughout the school stating that the child needs various evaluations, assessments, therapies, counseling, remediations, etc. when these are not and/or may not necessary.  The latter factor also occurs when school employees make these determinations when they are unqualified to do so; for example, they are not physicians, psychologists, or other qualified and unbiased healthcare professionals.  

There are also many other ways children are bullied in schools by school employees, and those ways are not limited to those that I have identified here.  Some more of those ways include: 16) school employees, including particular school administrators and/or teachers maintaining and carrying out a personal vendetta out of anger toward the child; 17) having nothing good to say or share about the child to parents or others; 18) calling the child’s parents in for meetings and/or conferences about the child and/or the parent, simply as a way to attempt to intimidate, harass, or otherwise bully; 19) basically behaving in an unprofessional manner, such as saying one thing, but doing the opposite toward the child or regarding a particular situation; and 20) school administrators also requiring other school employees throughout the school to also perform any of these identified unprofessional actions without question toward the child or the child’s parents, and if they do not do so, they (and/or their own children if their children are students at the school) experience various negative consequences.

Additionally and to compound the situation of school employees bullying school children, any multitute of the above-identified situations can be occurring toward the child at any given time.  For example, five of the particular situations may be occurring toward the child during one week.  In these instances, school employees are working with each other – and against the child – essentially using the child as their whipping post.  This is not only extremely detrimental to the child, but it is bad for the school’s reputation.

When these types of bullying actions toward school children occur by the very adults who have been entrusted with their care, well-being, and safety, it leaves the children on their own, to fend for themselves.  If a teacher and/or administrator simply does not like a particular child or that child’s parent, in my experience, I have found that punishments and/or disciplinary consequences toward that child are much more severe and unfair than they are toward other students.

When families pay extra monies for their children to attend private or parochial schools, the expectation is that those schools are of a higher standard than public schools, in every area – education, discipline, safety, fairness, faith foundation, services, etc.  Certainly, families have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of particular schools and/or school systems, and find the best complement for their child. 

Sometimes, despite all good intentions and communications with authority figures within the school regarding what can be improved or changed to help benefit the students and the school, including school retention when better practices and policies are exercised, things do not change, and in fact, worsen.  Sometimes policies become even more excessive and increasingly punitive.  Sometimes there is a change in the leadership, and the new leaders are more authoritarian and believe in doling out harsh consequences.  This does not mean that such policies are acceptable or ethical.  Perhaps many students’ families simply tolerate the policies because other educational alternatives to that particular school may be even worse.  One does not want to jump out the frying pan, into the fire, so to speak.

Therefore, I am a person who believes in, suggests, and encourages compassion, understanding, and sensitivity toward children and school students.  Harsh and excessive disciplinary policies effected on young school children for minor misbehaviors teach children that the world comes crashing down on them and they are condemned by school employees if they are not perfect all of the time.  It also teaches that adults in authority at school who are punitive are also unforgiving toward them for minor misbehaviors or mistakes.  Such authority figures are not serving as positive role models or guides for the children, but teachers of severe and unnecessary consequences for rather insignificant issues. 

This is how a bullyish atmosphere is created and maintained within a school by the adults within the school.  This is how bullying becomes a problem within schools – when adults bully children, and children, in turn, bully their peers.  Schools and school leaders can sugar coat and ignore the issue all they want, but things will not change for the better or improve unless they, themselves, recognize their own bullyish policies and change them to being more compassionate and understanding.  That is where true leadership lies – in providing positive guidance and in being positive role models for students, rather than in being excessively and unnecessarily punitive and unforgiving.  The teachings of Jesus also follow that philosophy.  

Therefore, schools must not only be progressive rather than regressive in their policies, but school leaders must actively exercise those positive and progressive policies.  School leaders must implement policies that are beneficial, positive, protective, and guiding for students.  School leaders and educators must also reflect on and enact ways of improving themselves and their own philosophies and perspectives.  In this way, everyone will benefit – the students, students’ families, school employees, and the school system.  This is what is necessary in every school and in every school system, and it is a basic expectation of all students and parents.  Let’s keep working to improve our schools and the policies that are practiced within them for the benefit of everyone, most particularly the children who are the youngest and most impressionable of all.

“What Benefit is There for Third Graders Serving One Hour Detentions?” (By Michele Babcock-Nice)

In how many schools throughout our country do primary and/or elementary school students serve detentions?  For that matter, how many second and/or third graders throughout our country are required to serve 30-60 minute detentions for rather minor issues?  How many of you adults ever served a detention at all in the primary or elementary grades? 

I am a person who believes in nurturing and supporting children, positively – as positively as possible.  I recall that when I was in school, I served one detention.  The detention that I served was when I was in high school for talking excessively in chorus class.  That detention was one that I served after school in study hall for 45 minutes. 

Today, primary and elementary school students are serving detentions of 30-60 minutes.  I fail to see the benefit of such severe disciplinary consequences on such young children.  Issuing detentions for situations such as when a student is talking without permission while walking in line with the class in the hallway, to me, is overly severe.  Such disciplinary consequences do not allow children to be children. 

In the best-behaved children, receiving such a detention shatters their self-esteem, especially when the teacher does not issue such consequences fairly to other students who exhibit the same behavior.  Such lengthy detentions issued to young children reflect an unforgiving attitude and atmosphere of the adults.  Such consequences cause feelings of injury and resentment in students, especially the best-behaved students. 

Issuing 30-60 minute detentions to third graders for students who poke a hole through a piece of cardboard, or who write in another student’s personal storybook after being given permission by that student to do so is unfair, harsh, and unforgiving.  Especially for those students who attend Christian faith-based schools in which forgiveness is to be one of the core values of the school – and when such forgiveness is not practiced, but rather, severe consequences of lengthy 60 minute detentions are issued – undermines the faith foundation of the school.  What is preached is not, in fact, practiced by those issuing the disciplinary consequences. 

In too many schools, children are expected to be perfect at all times, at all costs, no matter what.  Of course, I expect that when there are serious situations that arise, such as kids hurting or harming another in some way, there are to be serious consequences.  However, I still do not see the benefit of issuing serious consequences to students for minor issues.  Doing so does more harm than good, and it potentially creates a bad reputation for the school. 

Regarding the issuing of these consequences, there are often no exceptions, unless, of course, the student happens to be the child of a teacher or other employee at the school.  Then, there can be much that is overlooked.  Even if the children involved in a situation are not offspring of school employees, bias and/or favoritism may still be present in the decision-making regarding disciplinary consequences.  And, for some poorly-behaved students, the most severe disciplinary consequences could be issued, and there would still be no change or improvement in behavior, so to what end does that lead?  Again, that just creates resentment and mistrust in the student toward authority figures. 

Some students will even act out more after receiving disciplinary consequences.  Their negative behavior is negatively reinforced by the severe consequences, and so the cycle continues.  Some students get so nervous about the severe disciplinary consequences that they act out and do not even realize it, and then, they receive the severe disciplinary consequences – exactly what they were afraid of and trying to avoid.  Some adults believe that severe consequences – even for the most minor of issues – will stop the child’s behavior, though being understanding, compassionate, and speaking with care to the child about the situation is the best route to take. 

I am familiar with one school principal who visited a class of kindergartners, yelled at them, caused several of them to cry, and then, left the room, leaving the three adults in the classroom to comfort and console them.  How is that beneficial to the students?  How does the leader of the school yelling at them give them a sense of comfort and confidence.  Tragically, it ingrained their fears of the principal, that he is a big, mean, scary man to avoid and not trust.  He may compliment them publicly, but privately, he yells at them and makes them cry?  Is this a man who should be a leader of a Christian faith-based school, one who unnecessarily intimidates and scares the youngest students in the school?  It appears that he is exactly the person whom school system administrators want to lead the school.

Issuing lengthy detentions of 30-60 minutes or more to primary and/or elementary school students is too long and too severe.  Such disciplinary consequences – especially in response to minor issues – hurts children’s self esteem, injures their confidence, and creates mistrust and resentment, especially when the child has generally outstanding behavior and/or when the consequences are unfair, with the other child(ren) involved receiving no consequences. 

If school administrators are trying to increase enrollment and maintain student retention rates, issuing severe disciplinary consequences is not the route to take.  I have observed a good many families leave particular schools simply because of the severe disciplinary consequences their children (especially the boys) receive for minor issues, to the denial of teachers and/or administrators.  Why is it that so many female teachers lack the patience, empathy, and understanding necessary in understanding and teaching young children, particularly boys?  For them, the students must immediately abide by their rules, or repeatedly face consequences, sometimes throughout the entire school year, and often, simply because the teacher is angry with and/or does not like the child.  I have observed this to occur toward many children in relation to several teachers. 

Typically when parents inform school administrators about such situations, their children are only punished more because the teachers are supported by the administrators.  If the administrator denies that there is a problem regarding the teacher, then the parents are supposed to believe it, as well as that the problem lies with their child.  This is definitely a regressive and unproductive attitude to take, however, I have observed it occur over and over again.  People tell me that I have multitudes of patience, compassion, and understanding – I would be overjoyed to teach those educators and administrators how to respect and understand young children.

It is unfortunate that more people who are in the business of educating and/or caring for our children are not more understanding, sensitive, and compassionate toward them.  Being excessively harsh is incorrect and unethical; being compassionate, caring, and kind is what Jesus has taught us to do.  Those affiliated with Christian faith-based schools should be practicing that the most of anyone rather than doing the opposite of it.

I do not believe in harsh punishments, nor severe disciplinary consequences.  I do not issue them, nor do I agree with them.  When disciplinary consequences issued by a school are more harsh than I would ever dream of giving my own child, one must step back and reflect on whether or not the school truly upholds the faith and values that it promotes. 

Such faith and values begin at the top in any organization, and if those values are not in accordance with what the school stands for, then leadership restructuring, reorganization, and/or positive, progressive professional development is needed in order to promote, maintain, and enhance the best interests of the students.  I am one who truly believes that our schools must be progressive, not regressive.  People can say alot of good things, but actions truly speak louder than words.  When those actions do not correlate with the faith and values on which the school was founded, one must wonder in what direction the school is heading.

So the question remains, “Where are those schools in which true faith-based compassion, sensitivity, and understanding – as well as an excellent, affordable education – is practiced toward children by everyone, rather than severe and unforgiving punishments for minor issues that are detrimental to them?”  These are children for goodness sakes, not criminals.  I am interested to know where the said progressive and nurturing schools are; and only those schools with said qualities need apply.