Local districts out ahead of new bullying law

CRYSTAL LAKE – Jamie Buck knows there is no law that will stop bullying.

Gov. Pat Quinn recently signed a law requiring school districts to provide bullying prevention and response systems, but Buck, a Prairie Ridge High School math teacher, is striving for more than a law that reinforces what most school districts already have.

After losing a student a year and a half ago, Buck was inspired to get more involved in her students’ lives and help them build self-confidence. She started a program where she gives them a weekly challenge on Monday morning and saves time Friday to discuss whether they met the challenge and what they learned.

“Anti-bullying programs are about telling bullies not to be bullies so we took a different approach,” Buck said. “I wanted to help my students be sure of who they are and confident in who they are so if they hear those [bullying] comments it won’t affect them.”

Buck’s week-long challenges include staying off social media, no cursing, smiling at people the students pass in the hall and telling three adults they appreciate them. Buck said she was nervous when she first started the challenges, but the students have embraced them and even it helped repair one mother-daughter relationship.

“Students are usually only concerned with how something can help or hurt their grades so I wasn’t sure if they would do these challenges, but I haven’t heard one negative comment,” Buck said. “It’s been validating for me ... and this year there are going to be more teachers involved.”

Buck’s program goes well beyond the requirements of Quinn’s law, which requires school districts to develop policies that include a definition of bullying, procedures for the reporting of bullying, parental notification, the investigation of reports of bullying and actions that may be taken.

While those formal procedures have been in place at Community High School District 155 for a long time, district spokesman Jeff Puma said programs such as Buck’s have become more popular in recent years.

Groups such as Random Acts of Kindness, where students worked together to complete acts of kindness towards their peers or staff, and Students Overcoming Stigmas, where students educate peers on teen depression through use of anonymous personal testimonials, have helped reduce bullying, Puma said.

But the issue still surfaces for district’s that try to eliminate it. In Crystal Lake School District 47 last year, a Hannah Beardsley student was the victim of an attack in a hallway altercation that left him with a broken clavicle.

Superintendent Kathy Hinz said those serious incidents always lead to reviews of policies as does the introduction of a new law. She said an updated policy would be up for approval at the Sept. 15 board meeting.

Hinz said programs such as Character Counts and Rachel’s Challenge are also important in the district’s bullying prevention, which requires community-wide involvement.

“We rely on the families of students to collaborate with us,” Hinz said of preventing bullying. “ It is through this collaboration with parents, families, and the community as a whole that we will see an increase in students’ self-worth and self-esteem.”

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