Bullying in Today’s Academic and Social Environment: A Q&A With Educator Kerri Geesey

There are many roles a student can play when it comes to bullying. This includes students who bully others, students who are bullied, and those who witness bullying. The truth is, bullying affects all youth and the consequences can continue into adulthood. It’s important for students to understand how to effectively respond and to help prevent bullying.

bullying prevention in schools
Kerri Geesey, Educator at Wallenpaupack Area School District

About 20% of students between the ages of 12–18 have experienced bullying nationwide. Among students who reported being bullied at school, 15% were cyberbullied–online or by text. Our new product, Friend2Friend: Bullying Prevention, helps to promote and improve physical and emotional safety in school settings. While providing interactive learning opportunities and conversation practice to foster a student’s sense of belonging and connectedness to their school, this simulation guides students on how to identify and prevent bullying and in turn, create an inclusive learning environment for all.

We recently spoke with Kerri Geesey, third-grade teacher at Wallenpaupack Area School District and subject matter expert in the development of Friend2Friend: Bullying Prevention. Kerri has been an educator at Wallenpaupack Area School District for 20 years. Kerri taught fourth- and fifth-grade and for the past eight years, she has been a third-grade English and Language Arts teacher. Kerri was inspired to become an educator at a young age when her fifth-grade teacher taught her that teaching was more than just academics but also teaching young students how to become responsible human beings and upstanding members of society. Kerri knew she wanted to have that same positive impact on students.

Continue reading for more insights on bullying prevention in today’s academic and social environment and an inside look of Kerri’s impact on the development of Friend2Friend: Bullying Prevention.

What defines bullying in today’s academic and social environment?

“Repeated and unwanted attention in any way is considered bullying. This comes in a lot of different forms such as pointing out if someone is ahead or behind academically, physical bullying, invading someone’s space repeatedly, or bullying through social media. Whether it’s physical or emotional, any unwanted and relentless behavior can be considered a form of bullying.

Over time, bullying behavior has changed quite a bit. I think when we were younger, a bully had to be a lot braver. This is because they had to bully face-to-face. There wasn’t a screen they could hide behind or a false name, profile, or avatar they could use to stay anonymous. Unfortunately, this younger generation can do all of that today. They have the ability to bully anonymously without someone finding out who they are. When we were younger, if someone was a bully it was known by everyone. In that sense, a bully needed to be tougher and there was always a reason for that bullying behavior. This still applies today where there is always a reason behind why someone is bullying others, whether it’s due to their homelife or something else going on in their life.

In today’s social and academic environment, it’s become a lot easier to be a bully. It’s also become much easier to be bullied because there are so many different avenues bullies can take today.”

As an educator, have you found an increase in bullying as a result of the pandemic and the impact of isolation and learning loss?

“Absolutely. The more familiar students become with technology, the more they can learn to abuse it. As an educator, I’ve had to become very familiar with the ways they could abuse technology and take action by turning off chat functions and similar things. Because students today are so well-versed with technology, they may learn how to do things before we can. So, we need to learn all of the different ways they can bully others so that we can stay on top of it and stop to it.

Learning loss has also increased bullying. As I mentioned before, some forms of bullying can include pointing out if someone is ahead or behind academically. There were students that realized how far behind they were and that they didn’t have the help they needed academically through the pandemic, and they unfortunately experienced tremendous learning loss. Then, you see the students who didn’t experience any learning loss because they had the help they needed; they had a parent sitting next to them the whole time helping them through everything. Before the pandemic, students would point out those who could and those who couldn’t. Now, we have those who can and those who can’t. The students that ‘can’t’ are acting out so much more because it’s a distractor from the realization that they are behind compared to their peers. The pointing out of who ‘can’t’ among students has become a huge issue with bullying.

Again, there is always a reason why people are bullies as well as why they are being bullied. I think a lot of it has to do with what they are seeing at home and what their life experiences have been. Unfortunately, they bring that with them when they come to school and in life. Children do what they see, and they treat people how they are treated.”

What students are more prone to being a bully and who is more prone to being bullied?

“Since the pandemic, I would say the students who stayed at home longer before returning to school are more at risk depending on what their home life was like or how emotionally stable they are. If they are angry as a result of isolation or learning loss, or see examples of anger at home, they are more likely to bully others to get their anger out.

On the other hand, those who are most likely to be bullied are the students who others may perceive as ‘different.’ Students who may not fit into a group tend to be bullied by other students.”

How important is bullying prevention when it comes to building a safe and inclusive school environment?

“It’s incredibly important. To be honest, there isn’t much bullying prevention done for students besides little programs they do occasionally. A program like Friend2Friend: Bullying Prevention would be amazing in all school settings. I don’t think many students have the tools or the coping mechanisms if they are being bullied, or the tools on how to approach it if they witness someone else being bullied. They’re either scared in those situations and don’t know how to handle it, or they lack the social skills due to being home over the last couple of years. They don’t know how to interact with each other, especially the younger students who may have started their schooling during the beginning of the pandemic.

A training program for students, like the one we developed, would be beneficial for students. It gives ideas, tools, and the confidence to navigate these situations.”

Why is it just as important that students receive training in bullying prevention as much as educators and school staff?

“Students are the ones facing bullying head on. By the time adults are getting involved there is already a problem. If we can teach students to develop these skills and give them the tools they need, adults may not even need to be involved. With bullying prevention training, students can build the community, relationships, and friendships that they need while also building the strength and confidence to teach others those skills as well.”

How does a product like Friend2Friend: Bullying Prevention foster a student’s sense of belonging and connectedness to their school?

“I think if a student is feeling like they are part of one school rather than just their one group, then they will feel less alone. It would make the school feel more like a large community where it doesn’t matter where you are or who you are sitting with at lunch – you belong. I think everyone is looking for that in general. It doesn’t matter if you’re a kid, a teenager, or an adult—everyone wants to feel like they belong, no matter where they are. If we can help our students do this, schools will become a much more inclusive and connected place for them.”

In what ways can this product help improve physical and emotional safety among students?

“In today’s world, it’s very scary how far to extremes students can go to deal with their emotions or anger. I think if we give them the tools and coping mechanisms to identify those emotions, students can help each other prevent those extremes from happening.

In many cases, young students don’t know what to do in these difficult situations and they threaten to go to an extreme or they just do it because they don’t know what else to do. If we give them tools, choices, options, and places to go to get the help they need, they’ll go that route instead of going to the extreme.”

Can you define “Upstander Skills” and why it’s an important part of bullying prevention?

In the past, we’ve heard a lot about being a bystander and being told to try not to be a bystander. A bystander is someone who stands by and watches as something uncomfortable or inappropriate happens. What we’re trying to do with upstander skills is to help change the situation for a bystander. No one wants to be a bystander, so the idea of upstander skills is giving students some tools and ways to change the situation to make it so that they can help the person who is being bullied. Being an upstander is standing up for the person being bullied or standing up to the situation and making it more comfortable or appropriate for everyone involved. Being an upstander doesn’t necessarily mean they need to physically stand up and get involved in the situation, it can also mean getting an adult immediately to mediate the situation.”

This product teaches students about the Three Ds – Direct, Distract, and Delegate. Can you explain how students can use this in bullying prevention efforts?

“’Direct’ is to directly address the situation right in front of you, which takes a lot of bravery to do. It would be to directly approach someone and tell them, for example, that you are not comfortable with what they said or that they shouldn’t put their hands on someone in that way.

‘Distract’ is to distract from whatever is uncomfortable or inappropriate about the situation. So, for example, if a student says, ‘Hey, look at her haircut. She looks awful today!’ another student can distract from the situation and say, ‘I think we’re late for class, we should go.’ In this scenario, one student is not doing a lot to help the person being bullied, but they are getting people away from the situation so that no one else can address it. The hope would be for the student who distracted from the situation to go back and check to see if the other student, who was being bullied, is okay and check in with how they’re feeling.

‘Delegate’ is the option to address the situation through someone else. This can include reporting the situation to a trusted adult.

I think giving students options is the perfect thing to do in these situations. One answer may not always be the right answer and one way isn’t going to work for everyone. Every situation is different and needs to be handled differently. It’s important to give students different options so that they can handle situations correctly and in the way that they are comfortable.”

How does Friend2Friend: Bullying Prevention differ from other products on the market?

“Many other products on the market that I’ve seen are really lecture-formatted. What’s different about Friend2Friend: Bullying Prevention is that it’s very interactive. Not only is it interactive, but it also has the coaching function that lets students know if they are on the right track and it guides them in the right direction. It tells them what they’ve done right and what they could do better, while also giving the opportunity to go back and try again. The interaction, the video game look and feel, and the ability to practice are key. They make for a very engaging product.

There are so many ways situations of bullying can go, so it’s great that students can see all of these real-life scenarios and practice the many ways of how to best handle them.”

Experience the power of virtual simulation

Research shows that when students feel a sense of belonging as well as feel safe and connected with their school community, they are more likely to come to school, engage in the classroom, and thus have improved academic outcomes. Learn more about Friend2Friend: Bullying Prevention by contacting a sales representative or trying an interactive demo.

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