During the summer months, I stay busy by attending interim study committee meetings, participating in events in our community and trying to keep up with my granddaughters as I look after them occasionally. Now that summer is winding down and my youngest granddaughter has started kindergarten, the house is much quieter, which has given me more time to reflect. I have been thinking about the state of our schools, primarily on the bullying issue, so I wanted to dedicate my column this week to that topic.
At one point or another, I think most of us have probably been a victim of a bullying incident, but in recent years, it seems like this issue has not only grown in frequency but also severity. In fact, I recently read an article which unearthed some alarming statistics. One in four kids will be bullied, and of those, one in 20 will drop out of school because of it. This sheds light on the unfortunate reality that bullying is putting our children’s futures at risk.
While these statistics are nationwide, for the first time in Indiana, data has been released on what bullying looks like in our state. This data showed that more than 9,000 bullying incidents were reported by public schools during the 2013-2014 school year, and the key word here is “reported.” Just think how high this number would be if we knew of all the other instances that went unreported.
These numbers are certainly not what we would like to see, but it appears that they are prompting schools and other organizations to take a more serious approach towards addressing this issue. I was pleased to read of a new program being launched in central Indiana, which if effective, could be expanded throughout the state. The Social Health Association is currently launching the Step Up for Kindness initiative which will provide four hours of education to 30,800 kindergarten through eighth grade students to combat bullying.
By helping students learn the value of kindness, empathy, good character and the courage to stand up for others who may be the victim of bullying, the program hopes to influence the culture in Hoosier schools and communities. In turn, the program specifically hopes to lower student dropout rates and reduce criminal activity, which bullying can have an impact on.
Now, you may be wondering what does bullying have to do with crime, but the ties are significant. As a matter of fact, it has been said that bullies are 400 percent more likely to have a criminal record as an adult. Clearly, this is an issue we need to address immediately.
What I particularly like about the Step Up for Kindness initiative is that it encourages parents to talk to their children about bullying as well. It takes courage to combat bullying or to report an incident when it occurs, which is not something that can necessarily be taught in the classroom. An anti-bullying culture must also become a way of life and that is fostered at home.
In recent years, Indiana has done an excellent job of promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses in Hoosier schools, but we must not overlook every student’s basic need to feel safe. Having a safe environment is critical to student success and improving student performance. I am very pleased to see the current efforts aimed at addressing bullying in central Indiana schools, and I hope that we will soon see these same efforts echoed here in southwest Indiana.