Student survey begins school’s battle with ‘bullies’

Grover Middle School seeks to document actual experiences.

By: Shanay Cadette
   There’s nothing like hard evidence to show how much bullying really goes on at West Windsor-Plainsboro’s Grover Middle School.
   While educators currently strive to raise awareness about bullying through lesson plans, character themes, school assemblies, posters and T-shirts, they believe a survey will shine a light on the true climate of bullying at the middle school.
   Until educators know what they are up against, they say, they don’t know what needs to be done to end this age-old problem.
   "We all know, having gone through school all our lives, that bullying and teasing of kids have sort of been a fabric of school life," said Steve Mayer, principal of Grover Middle School. "But it doesn’t have to be."
   All 10 schools in the West Windsor-Plainsboro district, along with schools across the state, are expected to establish anti-bullying programs. A state statute instituted last year calls for districts and schools to implement prevention programs that involve the community, provide training and develop a process for discussions on harassment, intimidation and bullying.
   Permission letters were sent out to Grover parents earlier this month explaining the survey, which will be given to students in the next few weeks.
   Jenny Godnick, the guidance counselor at Grover who is spearheading the school’s prevention program, said she anticipates 90 percent of the school’s 1,200 students will be allowed to participate in the survey. The multiple-choice survey will be anonymous, although students will be asked to identify themselves by age and grade level.
   Questions about when and where children are bullied, what was said or done and how big an issue they perceive bullying to be at Grover are posed in the 20-question survey.
   Educators say the survey results will be used as baseline data to develop a view of bullying at the middle school. Six months or a year from now, the school will give the survey again to measure the effectiveness of the bullying-prevention program.
   While there is no hard-core violence at Grover, Ms. Godnick said, verbal-type bullying is a concern. It’s at the middle school level where students are more likely to say hurtful or mean things to each other, yet try to disguise it as "just kidding" or "just teasing," the counselor said.
   Studies show even teasing words can have a long-lasting effect on children as they become adults.
   "We’ve all experienced the teasing, the joking and the kidding, but there’s a fine line you draw," Ms. Godnick said.
   Educators at Grover specifically want to empower bystanders to report and combat bullying, since 80 percent of middle school students are neither the bullies nor the bullied, she said. They ultimately want to give those children the voice and tools to intervene and point out to their peers that bullying isn’t OK.
   "Our goal is to create a culture where bullying is unacceptable," Mr. Mayer said.