A letter in this week’s print edition expressing concern about student bullying adds to the increasing emphasis we hear from print and electronic media nation-wide on the subject. Clearly, school administrators and staff, parents, students, community agencies and citizens generally must be more proactive in order to adequately deal with this problem.
To get a better handle on the situation locally, we reviewed the policy adopted on March 4, 2008 by the Woodstock Union Middle and High School Board, which addresses policy, student and administrative responsibilities for student conduct and discipline and we found it useful, but not enough.
The document seems directed largely toward rules, but not much toward prevention. Possibly there are additional guiding documents we have not seen which do this instead. Our concern is that WUHS is little different than most schools throughout America where incidents of bullying and self-harm are rising rapidly.
To better understand bullying we also consulted the State of Vermont. Every two years, the Vermont Department of Health and the Department of Education have sponsored a survey of Vermont students. The survey measures the prevalence of behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death, disease and injury among youth. Windsor Central Supervisory Union is part of that study. Although its problems don’t match many Vermont schools and others nationally, WCSU is hardly exempt from what’s going on elsewhere!
The 2009 state study shows that locally in grades 8 through 12, the percent of students who were bullied during the past 30 days had increased in all six grades, with 8th graders indicating 32% of them had been victims of bullying. Males affected out numbered females 21% to 16%. In contrast, the percent of students who bullied others reached 28% in the 8th grade and 23% in 10th. Males out-bullied females by more than 2.1 overall.
The percent of students who were electronically bullied, such as through email, chat rooms, instant messaging, websites or text messaging in the past 12 months showed a shift. Grade 11 with 19% topped the list. Females out-bullied males 19% to 10%.
What troubles us most is the study’s report on student thoughts and behavior over the past 12 months concerning self-harm and suicide.
The percentage of all students in grades 8 through 12 who “felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks that they stopped doing some usual activities” ranged from 17% to 28%, with 8th graders representing the highest number.
Of greatest concern to us were student responses to the subject of suicide. Asked if they had made a plan of how to attempt suicide, responses ranged from 5% for seniors to 14% for 9th graders and 22% for 8th graders. Actual attempts at suicide ranged from zero for seniors to 12% for 8th graders. Further, 4% of 9th graders and 3% each for those in 8th, 10th and 11th reported attempts that required medical treatment.
These frightening statistics – as difficult as they may be for many to accept – come from the respected 2009 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Study. For a collection of reports, publications and resources on this subject, see the state’s Department of Education website or, contact Woodstock Chief of Police, Byron Kelly.
Discussing student thoughts and actions revealed in the study is not a criticism of local school administrators or staff – it’s about a ticking bomb which exists here and in most schools throughout the country which must be defused quickly to help prevent disaster and to create a healthier, happier environment for our youth.
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