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Modern-day bullying no stranger here

By Jeff Witten
whitten@bryancountynews.net>

School bullies have been around for as long as there have been schools. But they’ve exchanged school yards for smartphones and the Internet these days.
It’s known as cyberbullying, and an anonymous survey of nearly 700 students attending Bryan County Schools in 2013-14 produced some startling results:
Nearly a quarter of Bryan students surveyed said they’d been cyberbullied on either social media or by text message or email, and 13 percent admitted to cyberbullying others.
Here’s something else worth noting about the survey — the results of which were recently shared with the Bryan County Board in a high-tech presentation that included videos, animation and more: The project was put together by fifth-graders in Beth McCoy’s gifted SEEK class at Bryan County Elementary School.
Like most projects, this one had a beginning.
Coming up with the idea
McCoy, along with technology teacher Alexys Sykes, teamed up in August to come up with a project for the class, which meets once a week for four hours. The idea was to find something aimed at teaching the gifted students about myriad things ranging from technology, writing and research to gaining an understanding an issue with global impact.
Sykes suggested cyberbullying. McCoy agreed, though she said that was because of the students involved.
“Would I do this with another group? I don’t know. Cyberbullying is kind of a tough subject,” McCoy said. “But we felt that particular group of fifth-graders were mature enough to handle it, do the research and read the stories out there about it. They are a very mature group with a wonderful home life. I wouldn’t have been comfortable letting any class do this.”
Despite the subject matter, Sykes said cyberbullying is an issue students have become all too aware of.
“When I teach Internet, cyberbullying is something we talk about,” she said. “It’s just amazing how many of my kids want to talk about it — even third-graders wanted to talk about someone who had been mean to them on Facebook or Instagram.
“The project became something really important to the fifth-graders who were doing it.”
Research included finding global statistics on cyberbullying and analyzing it, then surveying students in Bryan County.
The SEEK students then wrote letters to BCES principal Julie Gannem showing the research they’d done and “they also had to have a working solution on how Bryan County could address the problem,” McCoy said, noting the entire process was paperless and included feedback from Gannem.
Students had to write clearly — for example, no LOLs, text-ese for laugh out loud allowed — Sykes said.
What’s more, much of the project, which was wrapped around testing and other classwork, was done using Chrome Books, and the fifth-graders also had to design the online survey at the centerpiece of the work.
That’s not as easy at it sounds.
“The survey itself had so many pieces to it,” McCoy said. “If a child answered this way, it would take them in one direction, and if they answered that way, it would take them in a different direction. It was a complicated survey to complete.”
The students also took time to make sure they were asking the right questions. Ultimately, it boiled down to two: Have you ever been bullied on social media? Have you ever been bullied not on social media?
The questions were then distributed electronically to several schools on both ends of Bryan County, where students in grades 3-12 participated.
The SEEK team got back 685 responses.
Nearly a quarter of those came from third-graders. And nearly 70 percent of all the students who participated used social media in one form or another, ranging from YouTube and Facebook to Instagram, Twitter and SnapChat.
Those who said they’d been bullied online pointed most often to Facebook. Nearly half of the 151 students bullied through nonsocial media said text messaging was the bully’s weapon of choice.
And, as the students found out, numbers can be misleading, since their research showed only about 10 percent of kids targeted by cyberbullying will tell an adult.
Worse, the end result of cyberbullying can be suicide, as the fifth-graders found out.
The numbers weren’t exactly surprising to McCoy, a veteran teacher and the mother of two.
“I wish I could say I’m surprised, but I’m not,” she said. “I’m a realist. I believe that’s the trend today. That’s how kids communicate.”
Sykes, soon to be a mother herself, said she found the results heartbreaking.
“First, a lot of these students shouldn’t be using social media yet anyway, because you should be 13,” she said. “But I understand everybody does it and it becomes a norm.”
Sykes, whose email signature includes the quote, “Bandwidth is the new electricity,” said research showed the suicide rate for kids includes some as young as 9.
She believes much of that can be blamed on social media.
But the SEEK students didn’t just identify a problem — they suggested a solution: If kids won’t tell adults they’re being cyberbullied, each school in Bryan County should have a student liaison available to talk with those who are being cyberbullied.
By Jeff Witten
whitten@bryancountynews.net>

School bullies have been around for as long as there have been schools. But they’ve exchanged school yards for smartphones and the Internet these days.
It’s known as cyberbullying, and an anonymous survey of nearly 700 students attending Bryan County Schools in 2013-14 produced some startling results:
Nearly a quarter of Bryan students surveyed said they’d been cyberbullied on either social media or by text message or email, and 13 percent admitted to cyberbullying others.
Here’s something else worth noting about the survey — the results of which were recently shared with the Bryan County Board in a high-tech presentation that included videos, animation and more: The project was put together by fifth-graders in Beth McCoy’s gifted SEEK class at Bryan County Elementary School.
Like most projects, this one had a beginning.
Teamwork
In all, 18 SEEK students worked on the project: .J. Anderson, Devin Bochette, Alexander Brown, Kate Butler, Emilio Castanon, Ryan Chapman, Ahmad Dukes, Jacob Gay, Jesse Henderson, Alexis Hovis, Emily Hughes, Will Kroymann, Noah MasonLang, James Shuman, Dorian Stokes, Joey White and Cody Woods.
Five then volunteered to take the group’s findings public: Castanon, Kroymann, Stokes, Anderson and Mason Lang.
They made the presentation first to their classmates, then to the Bryan County Board of Education at the board’s May 15 meeting at BCES.
The roughly 20-minute presentation essentially blew the socks off school board members and administrators.
“It is a great day as superintendent when you have young people taking a proactive stance against a very important topic, cyberbullying,” said Superintendent Dr. Paul Brooksher. “The Board of Education and I were truly impressed with the quality of the presentation and message the students from BCES shared with us.
“Having students take the lead on educating other students about the impacts of cyberbullying is one of the best ways to change student behaviors.”
But parents also have to know what their kids are up to when they’re connected to cyberspace, Brooksher said.
“With the near unlimited access to the Internet, the overwhelming number of social media outlets and a societal need to stay connected, both parents and students need to educate themselves on the topic of cyberbullying,” he said.
“It is essential that parents stay involved in their child’s electronic and online interactions and set very clear expectations for how those devices are used.”
Future
The fifth-graders responsible for the research will be moving on to middle school next year. But there is talk of them giving the presentation to other schools in the district.
Additionally, the project itself will be entered into the Georgia Student Media Festival.
McCoy hopes it makes a difference.
“This was an amazing group of students,” she said. “They embraced the project and truly learned from it. I hope they remember that when they’re faced with issues involving bullying and cyberbullying.”
Videos and graphic elements developed by BCES's fifth grade SEEK gift class led by teachers Beth McCoy and Alexys Sykes.

Survey of students


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