Last week, I joined administrators, teachers and student advocates from across the state to recognize National Bullying Prevention Month in the Mountain State.
As students across West Virginia reach the midway point of the fall semester, we must continue to stress the importance of providing a safe and supportive environment for all students. This month, I’d like to challenge all schools, teachers, parents and students to join this cause, take action and prevent bullying in their local communities.
As we raise awareness about the harms of bullying, we must also work to transform our culture and eliminate bullying altogether. Bullying is not only a statewide problem, but a national problem, and I’m proud we are working together give every student a safe and supportive learning environment.
Everyone — from state officials to our state’s students — has a role to play in bullying intervention and prevention efforts. As a father and a former teacher, I know the significant impact bullying can have on our kids. It can lead to school avoidance, low self-esteem, depression and even self-harm.
Research shows that 28 percent of students in grades 6-12 have experienced a form of bullying and approximately 30 percent of young people admit to bullying others. Access to 24/7 technology has created an entirely new platform for bullying. While the Internet, smart phones and other forms of cyber-technology are certainly useful, cyberbullying has become more prevalent than ever. In the past year alone, 15 percent of high school students were bullied over digital platforms.
We’re working hard to create the best possible learning environment for our state’s students, but there is still more work to be done. We must ensure all students feel safe at school in an environment that allows them to explore new and innovative ideas.
We need to talk to our kids about how to identify bullying behaviors and encourage them to speak up if they feel threatened or see one of their friends or classmates being bullied. It can be hard for to be the first one to speak up – no matter how old we are. As leaders, administrators and teachers, we must continue to work hard to foster an environment that empowers students and reinforces the fact that they can play a critical role in putting a stop to bullying in West Virginia.
As we recognize National Bullying Prevention Month, we must also make sure our prevention efforts extend beyond this observation month and become a part of our daily practice. We must continue to tell our kids: we care about you and want you to succeed. Together, we can — and will — create a culture in West Virginia that supports a positive and safe school environment for all students now and for years to come.
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