Addressing the crowd

Ellicottville Superintendent Mark Ward speaks during a recent workshop held at the school.

GREAT VALLEY — Ellicottville Central School is moving to address a “lack of respect and bullying” among certain grade levels — which included a workshop last month for parents and students, hosted by the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention.

A message to parents and students in the school’s newsletter read, “We find it troubling to admit that we have an increasing number of students who believe it is okay to pick on, make fun of, tease, threaten, harass, torment and in some situations use physical action toward other students.”

The message continued to list a number of concerns of staff and administrators, primarily regarding the school’s 7th and 8th grade classes. Superintendent Mark Ward said the school received a number of calls from parents and saw a troubling number of cases involving the students.

“We had seen an increase in the number of incidents in the locker room, in the hallway, the cafeteria, the school buses; it was a pattern,” said Ward. “Just a lot of incidents that bordered on bullying, or were bullying, or inconsiderate unnecessary behavior, and we were seeing more of it in 7th and 8th grade.

“If it was one or two (incidents) you might not feel it’s a major issue, but we were just having too many situations. It was time to draw a line in the sand, take a stand and get some help, which is why we brought in Dr. (Amanda) Nickerson.”

The event, held Jan. 15, was attended by over 120 7th and 8th grade parents, students and teachers and was lead by Dr. Nickerson of the Alberti Center.

“The turnout of students and parent was really tremendous with nearly 50 families represented there. It was overwhelming, I certainly felt good afterward” said Ward.

The superintendent emphasized that the programs spent some time delineating between bullying and being mean, and talked about how a bystander could do more to intervene in a bullying scenario.

“A lot of times (the bystanders) do nothing and watch some kid get picked on and stay out of it because they don’t want to be picked on, rather than step up to the plate and say that’s not right,” he said.

The Alberti Center, a part of the University of Buffalo Graduate School of Education, aims to “reduce bullying by contributing knowledge and providing evidence-based tools to effectively change the language, attitudes, and behaviors of educators, parents, students, and society,” according to their webpage.

The superintendent said it was their impressive program and the fact that they were a local organization that motivated Ellicottville school to bring in Dr. Nickerson and the Alberti Center.

“We studied their website before having them come down. (Dr. Nickerson) did a great job,” said Ward. “They were very research based and I know they’ve worked with Pioneer (Central School) for about a year.

“We picked (the Alberti Center) because they are local. A lot of times you bring in these high profile, flashy type of programs and they come and go. We like having this resource in Western New York because we can have them back again if the need is there.”

During the Jan. 15 workshop, Dr. Nickerson had the attendees break up into groups to discuss different scenarios and questions, and reconvene as a whole to discuss their responses.

“The answers were very powerful,” said Ward, who was in attendance that night. “It was neat to see the kids work side by side with adults, and speaking out and interacting. These kids have the ability to look at a situation a lot deeper than we give them credit for.”

In the end, the superintendent said it is about making school the best possible place for students and to prepare them well for the world ahead.

“We want our school to be tolerant and accepting of differences. The world these kids are going to be in is different — ethnically, religiously, sexually. Where we live is not exactly a microcosm of the world, to say the least,” he said.

Ward says the school has since seen a decrease in the number of bullying-related incidents among students and believes the workshop additionally helped facilitate more conversations between parents and students.

“It’s also important that the parents got to hear this (information) and I think they’re going home and talking with children more about it,” he said. “We actually have a link on our web page as a result of that night because there are a lot of things that can give parents ideas. None of us want to see our children hurt.”

Looking to the future the school hopes to create an ad hoc committee, comprised of faculty, parents and students, that would be tasked with helping keep the issue of bullying in the forefront. Ward also said other grade level are continuing to be monitored and considered for another potential workshop with the Alberti Center.

“I’m convinced everything that happened that night would be good for any kid.” said Ward. “And the problem is anywhere, not just Ellicottville. If you think you don’t have a problem you’re just sticking your head in the sand.”

(This story appears in the Feb. 13, 2014 edition of The Salamanca Press.)