Wentzville School District has a new parent-led group which started in May 2019, but has caught the attention of people district wide. The Wentzville Upstanders Anti-Bullying Collaborative has hopes to unite parents, teachers, administration, students, and community members in their quest to reduce bullying rates.
The premise is quite simple, to make the reporting of bullying events more efficient, to support the teachers in enforcing the rules already in place, to get more transparency for parents of a bullied child, and ultimately, to decrease the amount of bullying overall.
According to Upstander member and Wentzville Mayor, Nick Guccione “Everyone should be treated with respect, compassion, and kindness. We are all different. I believe we all have to work together to stop this serious epidemic. It starts at home, educating our children to treat each other with respect and dignity. Bullying not only happens at school, but in the workplace, on social media, and the playground. I believe us all working together as a community can put a stop to it. Let’s work together and end bullying. We are a community of neighbors working together to build a better future.”
The Wentzville School District covers the cities of Wentzville, Lake St. Louis, Foristell, and portions of Dardenne Prairie and O’Fallon. The Upstanders group (as opposed to bystanders) is an offshoot of the successful Upstanders that was created for the Lindbergh School District in Missouri. Renee McDonnell, a founding member of the Lindbergh group has worked closely with Jenn Carlise and Jamie Cotner to help bring the Wentzville chapter into being.
WSD schools are doing a valiant job of trying to meet an overwhelming array of conflicting demands with very limited resources. Unfortunately, in America, every seven minutes, a child is bullied. In 4 percent of the cases, parents intervene; and children intervene 11 percent. It’s a heartbreaking reality that 85 percent of the time, no one is there to help the victims. In a recently published study on school bullying, Missouri ranked third in the nation for states with the most prevalent bullying.
Bullying presents a major problem for students – it’s not just about creating a fear climate:
22% of all students were bullied during the school year.
Bullying victims are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide, according to a Yale School of Medicine Study. And 8.6 percent actually attempted suicide.
In a study in the United Kingdom, 29% of bullied students self harmed themselves, 14% developed an eating disorder, and 12% ran away from home.
Students who are bullied are at an increased risk factor a huge range of problems, including sleeping disorders, anxiety disorders, and depression.
Bullies themselves are at risk for violent behavior and substance abuse in the future.
If that’s not enough, bullying has a real cost both on education and our pockets as taxpayers. A report by the National Education Association claims that over 160,000 children miss school every day because of fear of being bullied at school. The National Association of Secondary School Principals report that this lower attendance can cost up to 2.3 million dollars per year, per public school.
Some children will never return to school – the children whose suicide attempts worked.
Wentzville Upstanders has an upcoming meeting on July 16th at 6pm at the Wentzville Schnuck’s meeting room, where Tina Meier, of the Megan Meier Foundation will be speaking. Tina’s daughter Megan was one of those St.Charles County statistics. But when you look into the eyes of a mother who has lost a child in such a senseless way, it no longer feels like a statistic. Megan was a living, breathing, child who was failed by the system.
Now, in Missouri, with new laws, even verbal harassment bullying can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or felony. In the youngest cases, the juvenile justice system could get involved. The Wentzville Anti-Bullying Collaborative is working to not let it get that far.
A few WSD teachers had to speak up anonymously. They are concerned about the fact that turning in more than a few bullying reports could negatively impact their jobs. In fact, it’s discouraged. According to GreatSchools.org, discipline flags are indicators GreatSchools uses to identify schools with worrisome patterns. A certain number of bullying reports could take the school from an A rated school to a B or lower. Fewer reports turned in means a higher school rating. It does not mean a safer school, and according to the teachers, an actually less safe school.
This fact was left out when Wentzville was named one of the 10 best cities in Missouri.
One anonymous Wentzville School District teacher said “We need to stop this type of behavior. Schools should be a safe area for the kids. It is not. I don’t blame the administrators or teachers. It is simply a problem that must be addressed. I have a friend who’s daughter is suicidal due to the bullying.”
Scott Kiehl, a former Wentzville School District teacher, had this to say: “Discipline means to teach, and if we aren’t holding kids responsible, we are doing them a disservice because the behavior won’t change and will perpetuate.” Kiel confirmed that the report numbers are counted and compared. “It’s time we got past – looks good, is good. If we don’t hold kids accountable because we want our comparable numbers to add up, it’s a disservice. It only accomplishes fewer referrals. Teachers hands are tied. They are not allowed to correct behavior and that’s the problem”
A parent who also wished to remain anonymous to protect their child from further bullying said, “People need to know there is a large group of kids doing this at Holt. Other kids are too scared to go against them, so they go along.” One set of parents from a WSD elementary school were denied access to the bullying report form after their child was beaten, even with the bully’s information redacted. Thomas Mickes from The Missouri Consultants for Education said he’d never heard of such a thing happening and that certainly would look poorly for that school.
The Wentzville Upstanders Collaboration invites anyone in the district to join the group (currently only available on Facebook) and come together as a community. Whether your child has been bullied, your child bullies, you have been bullied, or even teachers, administration or concerned citizens. You all have a voice and maybe by coming together, can find a way to a more peaceful future.