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Town hall focuses on bullying prevention
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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Bullying prevention was the topic of a presentation and town hall discussion at Senn High School Sept. 23.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, state Rep. Greg Harris, state Sen. Heather Steans, Ald. Harry Osterman, Chicago Public Schools ( CPS ) and Lurie Children's Hospital co-hosted the event attended by about 50 people.

Ahead of the presentations, Steans shared some facts and figures about bullying while Cassidy spoke about the recently passed bullying prevention bill which requires all public schools to develop and implement an anti-bullying policy.

Colleen Cicchetti—who, among other things, is assistant professor at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Ann and Robert Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago—gave an overview of bullying and spoke about the ways that parents can identify potential problems and help their children.

Cicchetti's presentation focused on the difference between teasing which is good natured ribbing between individuals and taunting which is characterized by an imbalance of power between the bully and the bullied. She noted that peer pressure begins at around nine years old, 30 percent of students have been bullied, two-thirds of students say schools respond poorly to bullying complaints and 25 percent of teachers see nothing wrong with bullying.

Cicchetti explained that there are three types of bullying; physical, verbal and relational ( ignoring, excluding and shunning behavior ), with emotional bullying being a combination of verbal and relational bullying. Kids who bully others are also at risk and anyone who stands out from the group is subject to bullying, said Cicchetti.

As for intervention, Cicchetti noted that the bully, victim and bystanders are all a part of the equation so the issue can be resolved. "Bystanders are the most powerful part of the puzzle," said Cicchetti. Cicchetti said that getting adults involved is a key component to intervention and parents should take what their kids say about bullying seriously and take an active role in solving the issue including an awareness of cyberbullying in all of its forms so their child feels safe.

Karen Van Ausdal, director of social and emotional learning for CPS, spoke about the role CPS is taking and the resources that are available for parents surrounding bullying and bullying prevention. Van Ausdal noted that CPS is committed to ensuring that social and emotional learning standards are a core component of every student's educational experience and they are using a multi-tiered system of support to combat bullying by creating a positive school climate at every school.

Lofton spoke about what bullying prevention looks like at the school level. She related a bullying incident that happened last winter break at Senn involving 90 students and how she intervened without being punitive towards any of the students involved. Getting the parents involved in the discussion and having the students reflect on their behavior by writing a two page essay was the key to changing the student's behavior, said Lofton.

A Q&A session and a spoken-word performance by About Face Youth Task Force members followed the presentations. The performance addressed bullying and its consequences, especially as it pertains to the LGBT community.

Attendees were also given an information and resource booklet featuring the basics about bullying, warning signs, steps parents/guardians should take, facts and figures on sexual orientation and gender identity issues in schools as they related to bullying and book/Internet resources available about bullying and bullying prevention.

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