DOWNEY - When Tom Houts, principal of Downey High School, saw it popping up in the news, he knew it was something he'd have to address directly at his own school.After a case of it emerged on the school's water polo team and Houts discovered that another student was seeking psychiatric therapy as a result of an entirely separate occurrence, he introduced a week-long program with the purpose of tackling the controversial issue of teenage bullying. A common occurrence in schools all across the country, the issue of bullying among students has been in the forefront of American minds in recent weeks after a devastating rash of teenage suicides claimed the lives of several young students, all victims of either verbal, physical or cyber bullying. By establishing Anti-Bullying Week, which took place this week at Downey High School, Houts hopes to bring awareness to the issue of bullying, while giving students who are dealing with it the strength to step forward and report it. "Bullying is an unequal balance of power between students," said Houts. "It's like the big guy picking on the little guy, but it could be someone spreading rumors, sending text messages…it's not cool. It's something we need to address and we are." With the help of ASB members, Houts has used the week to both inform and challenge students when it comes to bullying and harassment. Houts said that along with daily announcements defining what bullying is, he utilized clips from YouTube.com that also explain bullying and its negative effects. Downey High School teachers in every discipline were also required to set aside one lesson this week to talk about the subject. "Everyday during the announcements we do a different topic," Houts said on Wednesday. "The statistics about bullying, the forms of bullying…we also talk about what the students can do if they or someone else is being bullied." According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, between 15-25 percent of U.S. students are bullied with some frequency while 15-20 percent report that they bully others with some frequency. Studies show that when youth are bullied they're more likely than other children to be depressed, lonely, and anxious; have low self-esteem, feel unwell, and think about suicide. Houts encourages anyone struggling with bullying to confide in a friend, teacher or parent. "It tough, but you have to deal with it - come forward," he said. Houts plans to make coming forward much easier by utilizing technology. By using Facebook and cell phones, Houts hopes to make school administrators even more accessible to students who could simply text the principal to report an occurrence of bullying on campus. "It's a big message, it's our message. It's just not cool to be a bully," said Houts. "The kids understand the forms of bullying, but we want to promote the awareness of it - if you see a kid sitting alone, go up and talk to him. That is the first way to deal with it."
********** Published: October 21, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 27