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Teachers, counselors go to school to learn how to tackle bullying

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

A quiet student at a Chicago middle school silently dealt with older boys calling him names and cutting him down. He put up with their comments, but one day he had enough.

“He decided to fix things himself,” said Sandra Guzman, a counselor with Youth Outreach Services.

He grabbed one bully by the shirt to choke him and a fight broke out, but when it was broken up he began violently throwing chairs, Guzman said.

The bullies were suspended. The victim expelled.

A Roosevelt University class, “Navigating Peace: Exploring Bullying, Conflict and Social Justice Issues in Education” brings teachers and counselors together to find ways to help students develop paths to deal with bullying at school so the abused don’t end up with harsher punishment than their abusers.

Ernest Crim worked at a CPS school where there was no clear manner of handling such tensions, he said.

“They just expected the teachers to deal with it,” Crim said.

But, the Roosevelt class has given him and others ways to handle these situations and tools to deal with bullying instead of resorting to expulsions as a first resort.

“Conflict is inevitable [for students],” said Kristina Peterson, the Roosevelt University assistant professor who teaches the class. “We teach kids how to handle it in a way that isn’t violent. We’re helping from the ground up, instead of dealing with shooting violence and beatings.”

In the class they explore ways not only for instructors to manage these crises, but also how to teach their students to understand their feelings and others as well as the right steps to resolve them.

The role-plays different scenarios based on actual incidents that have taken place over the course of the week in between classes, Peterson said. Then as a class they dissect each individual’s reactions and determine various ways to de-escalate the situation.

Almost every week, news stories of students pushed to their limits by cyberbullying — some of which have ended in suicides — become part of the lesson plan.

When students are taught to write for instance, Peterson said, “We don’t just give them a 15 minute presentation. We teach them on a daily basis about those kinds of things, so when you’re trying to deal with social emotional things we can’t just give them a presentation one day and expect them to know how to handle it.”

The lessons need to be continual so they can react instinctively, Peterson said.

At his CPS school, Crim recognized a girl who was bullied by a variety of people.

“The last week she got into a fight, but the sad part was it was someone she considered her friend,” Crim said.

What’s sadder is he thinks the bullying is still going on.

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