Can A School Be Bully Free?
The U-S Department of Health and Human Services defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.”
An educator and a counselor in Tulsa want to create a school that’s bully-free.
Anyone can be a victim of bullying. Numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics breakdown the specific targets of school bullying:
- Homophobic bullying
- Bullying of students with disabilities
- Racist bullying targets people of a specific race or cultural.
- Religious bullying targets people who have specific religious beliefs.
Bullying can be addressed through federal laws concerning harassment. Schools are legally obligated to address it as such and Oklahoma is a state that employs both law and policy against bullying. Even with such checks in place, bullying will still occur.
Its regularity surprises educator and Choctaw Nation member C.C. Lawhon.
“I was having to home school them [students] in order to get them to where they could go to a high school and survive the bullying,” Lawhon said.
Lawhon found some bullying victims don’t necessarily fall into a neatly-defined category.
“My kids ranged from really popular girls that you would think would be completely, uh, fitting in just fine but for some reason were getting attacked by the mean girls, so to speak,” Lawhon said. “I have several Asperger's children and they were not being served. They are so smart, their IQ's were off the charts but they were different socially and even the teachers were bullying these guys.”
Through a chance meeting at a radio station Lawhon met a school counselor who was seeing the same patterns of bullying, and wanted to do something about it.
“Majik RavenHawk and I had, individually, began to look into starting a school here in Tulsa which would value diversity,” Lawhon said. “From her end she had noticed the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) suicide rate and it was just getting worse.”
“The native children were being bullied and treated differently and not encouraged to be themselves in the mainstream,” Lawhon said. “So with the cultures, she was coming at it from the cultures being squashed in order to survive in a public or private school in this area.”
Dr. Stephanie Fryberg testified before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in September of 2011 that the effects on native high school and college students who attended a school with a native mascot was a significant lowering of self-esteem and increased levels of anxiety and depression.
“On one hand, they're hearing at home from their elders how important it is to maintain this culture. On the other hand they so much as wear a beaded piece to school, and I'm just using that as one example that we ran into actually about a month ago, and the kids are making fun of them and the teachers are allowing it,” Lawhon said.
“So they are getting a double message and that's causing them a lot of difficulty internally. That's where we run into it being detrimental for these kids to be in schools with mascots,” Lawhon said. “It’s a joke. It’s supposed to be fun and it’s not serious and don't worry about and all of that, but it doesn't feel that way inside.”
RavenHawk is from the Tigua Pueblo. Working with Lawhon she found that the two of them together had the credentials to start an accredited school.
“I had initially started to get accredited with my school and now we're going to take that accreditation over to the new mission and new vision of Oklahoma Alliance Academy. We'll be accredited by the same group that accredited the Tulsa University's School for the gifted and talented.”
“Our next step will be to basically document everything. Get policies and procedures in place and then procure a building which, in this case, we are looking for a building in downtown Tulsa so it will provide a way for us to just walk out the front door for a field trip,” Lawhon said.
But it takes money to see an idea like this through.
“Of course our second biggest roadblock would be funding so that we are sure that we can fund my salary as headmaster and curriculum designer,” Lawhon said. “Majik will be executive director doing all the marketing, advertising, and enrollment.”
“Getting companies on board, getting other corporations, hopefully tribes and different groups of people that would like to see this go, that's going to be, I think, our biggest roadblock to getting to where we need to be,” Lawhon said.
“We need to get going so these kids can stop be bullied and get into an environment that will allow them to learn,” Lawhon said.
Lawhon said the Oklahoma Alliance Academy, a school that would embrace diversity and be bully free, is set to open in Fall of 2015.
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