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Why did this happen?
That’s the question local experts and school officials have asked following the recent Upper Darby bullying incident in which a 13-year-old was allegedly tormented, kidnapped and assaulted.
“While I’m totally sickened by what happened in Upper Darby, we can use this to learn from … and reinforce our roles as teachers, parents, role models and active citizens … and not let this happen again,” said Dana Korin, assistant professor of reading methods at Widener University in Chester.
Seven teenagers were arrested earlier this week for allegedly attacking their classmate, Nadin Khoury, while he was on his way home from the Opportunity Center at Upper Darby High School Jan. 11, according to police. The suspects videotaped the encounter, and at least one woman is seen walking by and doing nothing to help Khoury, police said.
Korin said she believes the most troubling part of this case is the fact there was a bystander who reportedly did nothing to help the victim.
In addition, Korin said it’s important for teachers to be aware of what’s going on with their students on a social level, so incidents don’t reach the magnitude of the incident in Upper Darby. Korin integrates tolerance education into the content areas of her courses.
“It’s our job to interfere,” she said.
Philip Rutter, assistant professor in the Center for Education at Widener University, questioned why the bullying incident occurred in Upper Darby.
“These kids are following some kind of script because they don’t see anything wrong with this kind of behavior,” said Rutter, who is also a psychologist and family therapist.
Similar to Korin, Rutter noted the Upper Darby bullying was not an isolated incident.
“It’s a broader social problem,” he said. “It’s not just the kids at Upper Darby. This is a snapshot of this kind of behavior.”
Rutter said it’s important that schools empower bystanders to report bullying. He said the bystander effect was also evident during the rash of gay and lesbian suicides in recent months.
Bullying can cause teenagers to have suicidal thoughts, according to Rutter. He said bullying typically begins in a classroom setting and then moves to the schoolyard and bus rides. And now, with text messaging and social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, bullying can occur 24/7.
“A young person doesn’t feel any escape, which leads to suicidal thoughts,” Rutter said.
Rutter said anti-bullying programs at schools are effective. He said schools need to include parents in conversations about bullying. “There is only so much schools can do,” he added.
Patricia Burroughs, an Aston resident and author of a few anti-bullying books, questioned why the suspects in the Upper Darby case videotaped the incident.
“The only thing I could think of is they think it’s funny,” said Burroughs, who is also an art and library teacher at Annunciation B.V.M. in Havertown. “It makes them stars of the airways. It’s almost like they want 15 minutes of fame, but at someone else’s expense.”
Burroughs said it’s important for bullying victims to get help from counselors after a traumatic incident. She also believes children need more activities and athletics in their lives to occupy their minds these days.
“All things do pass,” she said. “You can’t take it to heart and let it end your life. Then (the bullies) have won.”
Burroughs’ three books address different aspects of bullying. The first book, “I Am,” identifies victims and their bullies.
Burroughs’ second book, “I Was,” addresses bystanders and “cyberbullying.” Burroughs’ third book, “I Can,” which is currently a rough draft, will empower people to take a stand against bullying.
Several Delaware County school districts have implemented the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program or similar anti-bullying programs. The Olweus program was founded in Norway in the 1970s and is a school-wide approach to bullying.
Toby Albanese, assistant principal at Radnor Middle School, said his school has an anti-bullying program. Albanese also said he was concerned about the bystander who witnessed the Upper Darby incident. He said incidents that occur outside of the classroom should not be ignored.
“Ultimately, what happens on Facebook and out in the community will spill over to the halls inside your school,” Albanese said.
Radnor Middle School administrators invited Vermont resident John Halligan to speak about bullying in May 2010. Halligan spoke about how his teenage son, Ryan, endured bullying before he committed suicide in 2003.
At an upcoming Rose Tree Media School District in-service day, teachers will watch a video about the bullying of gay and lesbian students, according to Anne Callahan, the district’s director of human resources. The video includes a speech by Fort Worth, Texas, City Councilman Joel Burns.
Merle Horowitz, superintendent of the Marple Newtown School District, said all four elementary schools and the middle school have anti-bullying programs in place.
“All of the models use explanations of the bully, victim and bystander,” said Horowitz. “And what the programs do is empower children to use the role of the bystander to … stop bullying.”
Horowitz said she plans to discuss what happened at Upper Darby with district administrators at an upcoming meeting.
Helene Price, spokeswoman for the Garnet Valley School District, said her district has implemented the Olweus program at the schools, which is in line with a main point of the district’s strategic plan. Price said the district tries to invite motivational speakers to anti-bullying assemblies at least once a month. Halligan came to the district last month, she said.
Upper Darby School District Spokeswoman Dana Spino said her district has several anti-bullying programs in place and a policy that complies with the Department of Education’s requirements for bullying.
Upper Darby “will continue to implement the programs that are currently in place to address bullying prevention, as well as introduce additional opportunities for students to learn about the importance of bullying prevention throughout the school year,” states a page about bullying on the district’s website.
The Springfield School District also has several programs in place at the elementary, middle and high school levels, according to Superintendent Jim Capolupo. The programs include students, teachers, administrators, guidance counselors and parents.
At the elementary schools, for example, the teachers have daily classroom meetings with students before academics. All middle-school students are matched up with guidance counselors who stay in touch with them throughout high school.
“We’re always trying to stay on top of the situation,” Capolupo said.
Delaware County District Attorney G. Michael Green credited the Springfield School District for leading many anti-bullying efforts in the county. Green said cyberbullying of a 13-year-old girl played a role in one of multiple suicides in Springfield during the 2002-03 academic year. Green described that incident as a pivotal moment in anti-bullying issues in Delaware County.
Green said bullying issues are discussed during Safe Schools Summits hosted by his office. Last October, portions of the summit discussed cyberbullying and the importance of teen mental health awareness.
Green said his office has recommended that each school have a specific anti-bullying mission statement and a procedure in the school’s code of conduct. He also wants schools to work with local law enforcement agencies when bullying incidents occur.
“There is no question in my mind that the (Upper Darby) incident … was dealt with very seriously by the school district and local police department,” he said.
It’s important that emotional support services be available for the victim or any affected bystander, according to Green. It’s also important for the alleged bully to have a psychological evaluation to determine whether he or she may harm another student in the future, Green said.
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