Rochester students open up about school bullying

Carlos Diaz
Carlos Diaz, 14, right, talks about bullying Thursday, April 26, 2012, in Rochester, Minn., as task force member Phil Duran listens. Members of the Governor's Task Force on the Prevention of School Bullying came to hear Rochester students, teachers, and parents speak about the problem of bullying and what might be done to prevent it.
Alex Kolyer for MPR

With a little coaxing, more than a dozen students from Kellogg Middle School in Rochester, Minn., tried on Thursday to shed a little light on harassment of other kids in their school.

Their audience: Members of the Governor's Task Force on the Prevention of School Bullying. The group is traveling around Minnesota to assess the concerns of students, teachers and parents with an eye to strengthening the state's anti-bullying law, now considered one of the weakest in the nation.

None of the Rochester students said they have been bullied, but they had stories about friends who have been targeted.

It's all about "harming others so you can feel superior, said Carlos Diaz, 14, as he tried to explain why some kids bullied. To him, there apears to be a ranking order among students, and for some it seems the way to move up is by bullying other kids, "So you can feel power."

Amariah Moore, 11, said she has on friend whose life has been made miserable.

"She's scared to go to school because people will call her fat and ugly, anything to put her down. She's scared that they're never going to stop," Moore said. "She thinks that no one likes her, that she has no friends. But she does. I feel so bad for her."

The task force also wants to know what kids like these think can be done to prevent bullying. How about posters? Or the tried and true school assembly, with an anti-bullying message?

Task Force on the Prevention of School Bullying
Members of the Governor's Task Force on the Prevention of School Bullying listen to Rochester students talk about the problem of bullying and what might be done to prevent it.
Alex Kolyer for MPR

Thirteen-year-old Chris Olheiser said most students in those assemblies aren't paying attention. Fresher ways to get the anti-bullying message across ned to be thought of, he said.

"We're kids. Entertainment is basically our lives. Sports, video games, TV. Just making it entertaining would probably help more than anything," Olheiser said.

After the 90-minute meeting with students, task force member Vangie Castro said student input is valuable as this group works to put together new rules to prevent bullying.

"I think a lot of adults want to tell kids how they're supposed to act, but never really ask students what's the best way to make the environment for you more safe," Castro said.

The task force has a little over three months to come up with those recommendations to bring before Gov. Mark Dayton.

Castro said their conclusions are likely to include suggestions on programs schools can implement to prevent bullying. Their work will be more than just rewriting the state's bullying law, she said.

"We need to actually give parents and teachers and community members the tools and the skills to address this because it just can't fall on the students, it has to fall on the entire community," Castro said.

The task force plans more listening sessions in the next few months. They'll be held in St. Cloud, Mankato and at the headquarters of the state Department of Education in Roseville.

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