MIDDLETOWN -- During the first few days of school, administrators set the rules with students. Now, more than ever, that includes their bullying policy. In Middletown, students are learning what to do if they witness any mean behavior to stop bullying before it starts.
School leaders say their model is a proven success. About six years ago, fifteen students formed a group called Pride Patrol and now that group includes hundreds.
"It’s gotten worse due to social media," said Dr. Patricia Charles, Superintendent of Middletown Public Schools. "We feel a responsibility to teach explicitly how children can deal with bullying."
"If it’s a case of bullying, we’re mandated to make that report," said history teacher, John Geary. "But what we’ve been effective with, because bullying being so prevalent it now is a catch word, if somebody takes a pencil off someone’s desk, accidentally bumps someone, that’s not bullying, and so we’re trying to differentiate between bullying and meanness."
Last school year, over 500 students at Woodrow Wilson Middle School were Pride Patrol members. The students are trained on what to do if they witness meanness, which includes “excluding, teasing, disregarding, criticizing, and controlling.” The members fill out an anonymous report and discuss it with an administrator.
“Once we determine it’s mean, we talk to the victim, Pride Patrol member, and the perpetrator," Geary said.
Geary and Dr. Charles say this process has helped administrators figure out if it’s really a case of bullying which requires a lengthy investigation.
"This is not a quick process and I know that parents when their child is hurting they want immediate results, but we have to be certain about what’s happening," Dr. Charles said.
Over the last few years, Pride Patrol has come across 250 cases of meanness.
"I believe there’s only one that has reached the scale of bullying according to state law. If you eliminate meanness, it never gets to the level of bullying," Geary said.
Pride Patrol members have made lengthy video clips and acted out situations they’ve witnessed and intervened when it’s mean. They perform the skits at school assemblies and bring their message to elementary kids.
“There should not be a fear factor to get on the bus. Am I gonna eat alone? So, we’ve developed strategies on how to help a victim out depending on their personality," Geary said. "We don’t want to be a poster on a wall or a one-time assembly, so it’s empowering students on a daily basis.”
Geary also pointed out that because Pride Patrol has been up and running for six years, all students at the high school level have been exposed to these strategies.