Story and Photos by Joley Welkowitz.
With a focus on bullying and harassment as a growing problem across American schools, the New York State is looking to reverse that course through the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA), amended into educational law in 2010, which consists of specific language on these issue. The law went took effect in July, and next year cyber bulling will be included in the legislation.
At the Long Beach Board of Education meeting Tuesday at Lido Elementary School, Superintendent David Weiss and school administrators explained how the district have implemented the DASA model in the curriculum for all schools, which modifies the code of conduct to create an harassment- and discrimination-free environment.
A selected staff member in each school must be trained in non-discriminatory instructional and counseling methods, who is then in charge of educating the rest of the school’s personnel on these issues. Throughout Long Beach schools, where these policies were implemented before the mandate, the building principal is designated the Dignity Act coordinator for his or her school.
“We thought about this very hard,” Weiss said. “The principals are the ones responsible for creating a harassment-free environment and that is the right place for that to stay.”
Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is a guide for DASA. There is a formal and informal curriculum for grades K-12 to make sure students have developed social and emotional skills, so they can eventually become productive adults, according to the school district.
“A lot of people use the words bullying and harassment and have different ideas about what those words mean,” said Dr. Francine Newman, vice principal at Long Beach High School.
Keywords used by the CDC for the definition of bullying are “predatory and antagonistic behavior,” implying that it is targeted and ongoing. Harassment is defined as, “Creation of a hostile environment, substantially interfering with a student’s educational performance, opportunities or benefits, or mental, or emotional or physical safety.”
On the elementary level, bullying-prevention starts with the teacher in the classroom. Teachers speak with all parties to determine if an act is an isolate incident or bullying. If the latter, parents are
notified, the PPS staff gets involved and assists the children using various methods, including peer mediators and conflict-resolution, to solve their problems.
“It is important to let the students know that there is a safe space, to whom or where they can go to if they are being bullied,” said Sandra Schneider, principal of West School.
At the secondary level, there is less direct classroom time, but built in are SEL traits like self-awareness, self-management and responsible decision-making, the district said.
At Long Beach Middle School each grade is designed into three teams, to make the environment seem smaller, and an administrator and counselor is assigned to each. The administrator stays on that grade level and the counselor loops with the grade. To make the adjustment to middle school easier, the sixth grade is grouped into four sub-groups and travel together for the four core subjects.
The high school separates students into groups alphabetically and with a range of advisors.
“We started this model three years ago, with the hope that we would be able to prevent more things from happening within the building,” said LBHS Principal Dr. Gaurav Passi.
At the middle school, for the first time, ninth-graders are teamed similarly, to help ease the transition into high school.
“We wanted to get more kids involved with Peer Leaders and take on more of a role in terms of influence, climate and the culture of the building in a positive manner,” Gaurav said.
Parent Ari Pine asked if the
policies are effective and how could they be measured.
Michael DeVito, the
district’s chief operating officer, said that a climate study, which surveyed
the students, helps set a baseline
regarding how safe students feel and if they feel that the programs work. He said
the survey showed that they feel safe
and supported by staff members and administration. He said that some work is
still needed with the SEL between students, specifically around the transition
years from fifth to sixth grades and eight to night grades.
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