The key to stopping bullying is to have students report it to an adult, Fenton area school administrators say. After the suicide death of Josh Pacheco, a junior at Linden High School, superintendents discuss how their schools handle bullying.
Linden Community Schools has added anti-bullying hot lines students can call or text, said Superintendent Ed Koledo. The students can remain anonymous when they report an incident. And the hot lines aren’t just for anti-bullying. They can also be used if students are worried about another student’s health or safety, or for reporting stealing, drugs, or another incident at school. The numbers are 810-373-2131 for the high school and 810-373-2458 for the middle school.
Koledo said the hot lines have had a number of calls to date, with concerns for other kids and other incidents. Some bullying issues also have been reported since the hot lines went into use on Nov. 30.
In addition, after the high school junior’s death, Linden schools will bring in professional grief counselors before the holiday break. After break, Koledo said the district will have suicide and bullying counselors come in to work with the entire district, including staff, on what they can do if they witness bullying. A parent and community night will be held as well, on how to be aware of possible suicides and how to help a student with low self-esteem.
“The work with bullying is never done,” he said.
The student who committed suicide came for help with an incident approximately two months ago, he said. At the high school, staff are trying to determine what happened, but they haven’t been able to validate any allegations. A lot of the information came to them via Facebook, Koledo said.
Although he didn’t know the student personally, Koledo said he’s learned Josh was a beautiful kind of person who inspired everyone whose life he touched, every day. His close friends and acquaintances said he always had something fun to say and would make his friends feel better. He looked at the bright side and brought out the best in them, Koledo said.
“The community has really come out,” he added.
A candlelight vigil for Josh had a lot of participation, and local businesses are supporting Linden schools in their efforts to bring in as much anti-bullying programming as they can, he said. Serendipity Day Spa and the Retreat Salon and Skin Spa are assisting with this. Koledo was meeting with Landaal Packaging Systems, of Flint, as well.
It’s become a much more collaborative effort, and students seem more aware of these issues and discussing them — if any good could come from the tragedy, he said.
Bullying is difficult to prevent, and there should be as many ways as possible to communicate about it so there isn’t another suicide ever again, he said.
Lake Fenton Community Schools
The district has adopted a bullying policy, as required by the Matt’s Safe School Law, said Superintendent Dr. Wayne Wright. In addition, whenever there is a new case of bullying reported, an administrator must investigate it.
“Bullying usually happens multiple times,” he said.
If it’s found to be bullying, the parents of the bullied student and the parents of the bullying student are brought in to discuss the situation.
The form to report bullying is online and it goes directly to Wright’s desk. He then sends it to the building where it occurred.
“If we can figure out who it is, we try to rectify the situation,” he said.
Lake Fenton schools has had several anti-bullying programs, including a Michigan State Police trooper who visited each building to discuss bullying and what to do when it occurs. Administrators have looked at different school programs, and The Starfish Initiative is beginning at Lake Fenton High School.
The problem is, many cases of bullying aren’t reported, Wright said. If it’s reported, school employees can handle it. But they need to know about it first, from victims or bystanders.
Fenton Area Public Schools
Fenton schools participated in an anti-bullying march on Dec. 9 with Lake Fenton schools’ The Starfish Initiative, said Dr. Timothy Jalkanen, superintendent. It had a good turnout, with about 150 joining in, he said. People from the Linden, Lake Fenton, and Fenton school districts attended, and Jalkanen was able to get school buses to bring the walkers back to A.G. Schmidt Middle School from Bush Park, due to the cold weather.
Fenton schools have adopted a new anti-bullying policy, per state requirements, he added. And block scheduling at Fenton High School has helped because students from freshmen to seniors share Student Resource Time (SRT). Students in SRT are like a family, and they have lockers with each other instead of there being a “senior hallway,” he said. In addition, block scheduling means students have four classes per day, so there’s less transit time in the hallways and less opportunities for bullying.
Teachers are in the halls when students are going to and from classes, to help prevent issues, Jalkanen said. And staff are outside the restrooms to ensure there are no problems, he added.
Some students also are in mentor training classes and help solve conflicts between their peers.
The Bullycide Project visited Fenton High School in October, performing three shows for hundreds of students. Seventh and eighth grade students also attended the event, which was sponsored by FHS drama teacher Lori Thompson. And the district, with teachers Kim Adas and Thompson, is beginning a Peace Committee to prevent bullying, Jalkanen said.
Anti-bullying is important for elementary students as well, he said. Counselors have visited elementary and middle school classrooms to talk about how to prevent bullying and speak up if it occurs. It’s important to tell an adult if there is bullying, he said. That adult can be a teacher or principal.
“The big thing is to report it, so the adults can handle it and respond appropriately so the kids can feel safe in our building,” Jalkanen concluded.