PTA focuses on ways to combat bullying

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - 10:20
  • Fred Manzano, manager of the Eagle River and Wasilla branches of the Okamoto’s School of Karate, demonstrates, with students, ways to combat bullying during a PTA meeting. PHOTO BY AMY ARMSTRONG FOR THE STAR

While the Anchorage School District as a whole grapples with bullying, one local parent-teacher association (PTA) is taking steps to curb the social ill.

The Alpenglow Elementary School PTA invited Fred Manzano, manager of the Eagle River and Wasilla branches of the Okamoto’s School of Karate, to talk with students during a PTA meeting geared toward combatting bullying.

“It might seem strange to hear this,” Manzano, dressed in his gee with a black belt cinched around his waist, told the parents and students gathered in the school’s music room on March 8. “Especially coming from a karate school, but we do not oppose fighting. We teach our students respect for themselves and for others. When you have respect, you have confidence in yourself and you don’t need to be a bully.”

He was on hand to present methods in which students can protect themselves and others from bullies.

None of the methods he taught involved the use of physical force. Instead, Manzano’s methods centered on the usage of avoidance, awareness and peer pressure to thwart bullying.

Before he began demonstrations with the help of students from the karate school and the audience, Manzano presented some disturbing statistics.

One in seven school children either admit to being a bully or being the victim of a bully at least once, Manzano said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that four out of five children experience some form of bullying, whether cyber, physical or verbal, at some point during their schooling

“That means that in the typical classroom, there are three to four students that are either being the bully or are being bullied,” Manzano said. “That is not okay.”

 Several students from Okamoto’s accompanied Manzano to demonstrate various scenarios.

As each scenario was presented, Manzano asked the gathered elementary students if they thought what they just witnessed would qualify as bullying.

Enacted scenes included name calling, criticism of appearance – especially clothing – as well as pushing, shoving or tripping others as they walked by and cutting in line in front of others.

In most cases, the bulk of the gathered elementary students were able to correctly identify the various enacted events.

Then Manzano directed the presentation to non-physical ways students can protect themselves.

The first was as easy as knowing where bullies tend to hang out on the playground or school lunchroom and to simply not be in that area.

“If you aren’t near them, they cannot bother you,” he said.

Second, Manzano suggested ignoring the taunts of bullies.

He then asked his karate students to enact another mini drama in which one student approached another and criticized the other’s clothing as being “ugly.” The approached student simply did not acknowledge the bully.

“If you don’t show any emotion to a bully, you take away what he or she is trying to get from you: a reaction,” Manzano said.

Sounds great in theory, but Manzano is realistic enough to know that doesn’t always end the bullying.

The third option – either agreeing or using humor to deflate a bully’s bravado – was next on Manzano’s list.

He instructed one of the karate students to engage him telling him: “Your shirt is ugly.”

Manzano quickly retorted, “Oh, yeah. Well I was trying to wear an ugly shirt today. Cool.”

The next step is to tell the bully to stop. Tell the bully to leave you alone.

If that doesn’t work, walk away and report what happened to a trusted adult such as a principal or a teacher.

Of course, in the real world, we know that sometimes these techniques work and sometimes bullying escalates to a point of disciplinary intervention.

It’s an issue the ASD hasn’t find a complete answer to as of yet in terms of preventing it from happening at a 100 percent rate.

The district has a strongly-worded no tolerance policy regarding bullying. Each student manual for elementary, middle and high school levels contains language describing bullying and harassment, admonishment against it and penalties for its occurrence.

 Yet, it still happens within the district much more frequently than administrators and teachers desire.

In Dec. 2015, an Internet video of an Anchorage middle school girl being taunted by a ring of female bullies prompted outrage across the Anchorage Bowl.

At the end of January this year, school officials led by Superintendent Ed Graff held a district-wide anti-bullying community conversation.

Graff reminded parents to keep an open dialogue with their children regarding bullying. He suggested that if a child brings up the subject, it is a strong indicator that they are being bullied.

He also pointed out that bullied children are at a higher risk of developing some dangerous mental issues as children, teens and adults. Conditions such as anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol abuse and poor academic performance are all on the list.

The organization Child Trends based in Bethesda, Md., reported in 2011 that bullied males and females were four and eight times more likely to become suicidal.

Those numbers frighten the adult members of the Alpenglow PTA.

“Bullying is a serious issue,” Angela Sullivan, the PTA’s first vice president who attended the meeting, said. “We as a PTA and as parents and as members of this community know that it happens here too and we want to make sure that our kids know it is not right to bully and we want them to know what to do if they are bullied.”

That sentiment is echoed by Christine and Ronald Corwin who brought their son, Brendan Corwin, a third grade student, to the event in hopes of finding solutions for some of the bullying he has recently faced.

Another student pretends to be Brendan’s friend and then turns tail on him mocking him and saying that he isn’t his friend.

Ronald said he’s noticed his son’s usually out-going nature becoming a bit more withdrawn.

“We wanted to come here today to get some tools that will help Brendan,” Christine said. “We’ve learned a few things. I do wish that the school would have an assembly for all of the students during the school day. I think it would really help raise awareness.”

Connect with Amy Armstrong via email at amyarmstrong@gci.net or online at www.facebook.com/pages/Armstrong-Communications-Words-by-Amy-Marie.

 

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