BASE students weigh in on bullying and how they can help

Student involvement is integral to solving the problem of bullying at school.

Building a Supportive Environment, a student group better known as BASE, will be a main ingredient toward implementing a bullying prevention program school staff are looking to use.

Students who participate in BASE said they're already working to connect with students and to reach out when they believe there might be problems.

"My idea is ... having simple acts of kindness or as simple as holding a door open for someone or talking to someone who looks like they're having a down day," said freshman Timothy Pearson. He suggested just listening to someone if they need it. "Each individual student could be more looking out for that type of stuff."

Fellow BASE members sophomore Clara Waddington and freshman Shailyn Nelson echoed that sentiment.

"You can just go up and talk to someone," Nelson said. "It doesn't have to be 'Come over to my house' or something big. You can just talk to them and make it better."

Wrangell High School and Stikine Middle School principal Bob Burkhart said he and school counselor Julie Williams, Ph.D., are looking at utilizing the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP) which involves bringing together school staff, parents, community leaders and students.

BASE would be involved from the start, as Burkhart said the students would be tasked with writing the grant applications to move forward with funding OBPP.

Wrangell-based clinical psychologist John DeRuyter said he believes BASE is a good starting point for delivering the OBPP system.

"The BASE program needs to be set up with what's coming down the line from the OBPP system," DeRuyter said in an Oct. 26 interview with the Sentinel. "They're going to be a crucial piece of it. They have the credibility to step down with those that really do need the support, to be pulled in and involved."

Being students among students also gives BASE members a boots-on-the-ground approach to helping other kids who might be dealing with bullying or other issues school staff doesn't always see.

"Since we're in the know, we're the people who discuss it the most, we should make an effort to go out of our way to try to be those type of people and try to talk to people who may be new at our school," Waddington said. "People who don't always have someone to hang out with."

Having been bullied, both Pearson and Waddington said the experiences have helped them be more empathetic toward others who might be going through something similar. Although they don't deal with anywhere near the amount of bullying they had in elementary and middle school, both have had to change their mindsets to deal with the problem.

"I have a speech impediment lisp that I've had since I was 4," Pearson said. "I've been taking speech classes for it up until last year. Even to this day, people still mess with me about it, but how I've learned to deal with it is to develop this mindset of just not caring what people say."

It's a similar approach to the one Waddington adopted.

"I was trying to fix other people and make them behave 'correctly,' when that's not necessarily how things work, especially in a small town like this," she said. "I had to get it ingrained into my mind that you can't necessarily change people who are around you, but you can change the way you react to things and change who you are."

Nelson said even though she hasn't necessarily experienced bullying, the BASE program has helped her realize ways to help others and to be more empathetic in her approach.

All three students believe bullying exists in Wrangell but nowhere near as bad as it might be in larger schools. They also agreed that it's less so at the high school than it is in middle or elementary school due to a busier class schedule and more work to focus on.

Williams said having that focus helps to curb the problem.

"That's what works: People so bought into their own lives that they don't have time to gossip about others," she said. "They're so bought into their own desire, future, what makes my personal crew advance? Seeing the rest of the people in their class as part of their personal crew that needs to advance and get together. That's your influence, your culture. That goes back to BASE."

Because of bullying, Waddington attended school in Florida last year, where, she said, it wasn't uncommon to see fights erupt in the school halls. She said that rarely if ever happens in Wrangell schools because of the small size and how close the community is. "That luckily does not happen here unless it's outside of school. The school is so small that there's a much closer watch on everybody."

The students said another issue is recognizing bullying. What may appear to school staff and other adults as aggression could simply be friends having fun with each other.

"A lot of us are family and related somehow, so we just mess around with each other," Nelson said.

"I think it's a combination of everybody knowing each other and deciphering what's play fighting, joking around or if it's severe bullying," Pearson said. "You might push someone, and they push you back and it's OK because it's your best friend. But if someone else is doing it constantly and the teachers see it, they don't know if you're being playful or getting harassed."

That said, the BASE students said they believe the school staff is working to address problems that might occur, which is an improvement from years past.

"I think Dr. Williams is really making an effort and trying, and I really appreciate that from her," Waddington said. "I feel she's a lot more insightful and listens a lot more than past experiences that I've had with the middle and high school. I definitely think it's getting better."

Pearson believes the addition of new staff has helped greatly, but it's also a problem of those staff members getting the information that students have first-hand knowledge of. "It's another problem of gathering information or getting any information at all," since not every person who gets bullied feels comfortable coming forward.

"For bullying, I sometimes think the school could do a little better," Nelson said. "Community-wise, I think the community does a great job of putting a stop to bullying. I think there are many people outside of the school I could go to and they'd put a stop to it."

 

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