LINCOLN, Maine — A survey of 264 Mattanawcook Academy students in 2009 found that 31 percent reported being bullied at school during the previous 12 months, school officials said Friday.
As far as MA guidance counselor Andrea Smith can determine, those numbers match national statistics, but they also show why the Mattanawcook Academy Bully Prevention Team is devoting Monday to teaching students and staff about bullying and how to prevent it, she said.
“A lot of this [bullying] isn’t big-issue stuff,” Smith said Friday. “It’s small things that might lead to bigger things.”
As part of Monday’s daylong program — which will include community partners, law enforcement officers and student-drawn posters — accounts of bullying will be discussed in classrooms to show that it is a harmful and yet common occurrence, one that all students and staff must work to prevent.
Bullying, Smith said, is often small but repetitive actions — daily name-calling, shoving, slanderous rumor-spreading and ostracizing — that can build to a shattering climax or lead to physical ailments. Adults often cannot see bullying because it happens quietly or out of their presence.
“We are relying on students to see it and make us aware of it,” guidance counselor Jessy Butler said.
In the worst circumstances, bullying leads to cases like that of Phoebe Prince, 15, an Irish immigrant who committed suicide in January after about three months of taunts and aggression from fellow students at her new high school in Massachusetts, according to news reports.
No such fatal instances have been reported at Mattanawcook Academy, the public high school that serves Chester, Lincoln and Mattawamkeag, officials said.
Over the last three years, Mattanawcook’s bully prevention team of 15 to 20 students — aided by group adviser and social studies teacher Aaron Ward and the school’s guidance counselors — has worked with high school, junior high and grade-school students to recognize and defuse bullying. The group works monthly during the school year with advisers Shawn and Molly Mercer on anti-bullying techniques.
“Sometimes we break into smaller groups,” said Sean Sibley, a Mattanawcook Academy senior and peer leader with the team. “Some go to the elementary school and work with them on what they need.
“Part of it [group training] is to keep an eye out for bullying,” Sibley said. “We call ourselves allies. If we see something happen, we are trained to interdict.”
Allies will shepherd victims from bullies, try to learn how and why bullying manifests itself, inform teachers of bullying, teach their peers not to tolerate bullying, and establish relationships with bullies and victims to try to defuse conflicts and gently encourage proper behavior and self-esteem, Sibley said.
Bullies often oppress others “to have attention and power over somebody else, to gain followers and be in control,” Smith said. “It also has to do with the role of adults and their being passive in face of it or a home life where aggression is normal.
“If they [adults] see something and they don’t interrupt it, they are saying it is OK,” she added.
“A bully is everybody’s responsibility,” Sibley said.
If you go:
WHO: the Mattanawcook Academy Bully Prevention Team
WHAT: A daylong bullying prevention and intervention program
WHERE: Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln
WHEN: Monday, May 17
WHY: To teach students, staff and selected community members about bullying and the damage it can do.
Source: Mattanawcook Academy Guidance Department