Getting a handle on the bullying problem in New Orleans schools is the job of Traig Varnado, LSU AgCenter 4-H youth development agent.
Varnado held a three-day training session recently for students at Fannie C. Williams School in New Orleans East to help address the growing problem at the school.
Students at the school spent more than an hour listening to what bullying entails and why it is important to keep it out of the school.
“We let the youth know that bullying involves three components – the bully, the victim and the bystander,” Varnado said.
The students seemed shocked to find out what bullying is and that some of them were guilty of creating the problem, he said.
“When some of the students realized the problems they had been causing as a result of their behavior, they just broke down and cried,” Yolande Thurman, a language arts teacher, said.
In the school, where discipline is a constant problem, the students sometimes think it’s OK to “rib” or give their fellow students a hard time, Thurman said.
“This program is designed to help avoid having antagonized students here at the school who feel threatened and stressed about coming to school because they are being bullied verbally and physically by other students,” said Jacqueline Edmond, guidance counselor.
“There is no age limit, from pre-K all the way to eighth grade,” she said. “It is a chronic problem here at the school, and we’re trying to address it early.”
“I didn’t think what I was doing was causing a problem. I was just having fun,” said one eighth-grade student.
Another student admitted to being a bully and said he really doesn’t know why.
“I really just mess with everybody. I think maybe I do it because of something that happened in my childhood, but I really don’t know,” he said.
Varnado said the program begins by allowing the students to hear the Mark Willis song “Don’t Laugh at Me” to show the students that they don’t have to be the same to be OK.
From that point, the program allows the students to see the damage they are doing when they bully. He said he hopes this will cause a change in their behavior.
“One of the activities we do involves a student who pretends to be new to the school. The student holds a paper heart up before the class, and as the students say mean things, this student folds the heart until it’s a small piece of paper,” Varnado said. “Then as the students begin to say nice things, the student unfolds the paper heart.”
Even though the heart is back to its original shape, the students can see the damage that was done.
Some of the students didn’t consider themselves bullies but did admit they are sometimes guilty.
“I don’t physically bully anybody, but if they make me mad, I will talk about them,” an eighth- grade student said. “I don’t get physical because I know that there is such a thing called karma, and what goes around will come around.”
Not only at this school, but bullying has become a national problem with schools scrambling to alleviate the problem before it becomes serious, Varnado said.
Statistics show that every seven minutes a child is bullied on a schoolyard, with 77 percent of these students being bullied either emotionally, verbally or physically.Johnny Morgan