POINCIANA – The posters can be found all over the hallways of Palmetto Elementary School, advising students that if anyone tries to bully them, that’s wrong and they should tell an adult.
But 10-year-old Nathanial Claudio has been a student at this Poinciana school for several years, and he’s never gotten bullied.
“Not me, no,” he said. “And I’ve been here since first grade, for four years.”
Bullying remains a major challenge for a lot of schools across the country, particularly at the high school level, where incidents of teen depression, and even suicide, can be linked to repeated instances of bullying.
But Luis Alvarez, the principal at the elementary school right off Marigold Avenue, said Palmetto’s zero-tolerance policy for bullying appears to be working quite well, because his office rarely if ever gets complaints about it.
“If anybody is bothering you, you approach any adult and tell them immediately,” he said. “Our policy is, if you bug me one time, that’s not bullying. I have to tell you, ‘Please stop.’
“But if it happens more than once, that’s bullying,” he added.
Signs in the hallways ask students questions like “What Should I Do If I’m Bullied,” with advice on how to stop it. The posters are made by the Stop Bullying Now national campaign.
Other posters caution that the school is a “No Bully Zone.”
But as Alvarez noted, his school – which opened in 2007 – has not struggled to deal with repeated instances of bullying.
“We’ve been doing this for four years now, so we know what bullying is,” he said.
Wanda Martinez, a guidance counselor at the school, agreed.
“Bullying per se, I haven’t seen it,” she said.
But if it happens, the school is fully prepared to stop it, she added.
“My teachers have been trained on the difference between rough play and bullying,” she said.
Palmetto also has brochures that are put out by the School Board of Polk County, called “Creating Bully-Free Schools,” that are available to be given to parents who may be worried that their child is becoming a bullying victim.
“Everyone talks about bullying, but when asked, few can give a consistent, clear-cut definition of the term,” the brochure notes. “In Polk County Schools, student behavior is defined as bullying if it meets three criteria.”
That includes student behavior that is “unwanted, offensive, threatening, insulting, humiliating, or interferes with the individual’s school performance, which results in the victim feeling stressed, injured or threatened,” the brochure notes.
Bullying is also defined as actions that create an imbalance of power between the victim and the aggressor, and as Alvarez noted, the harassment must happen repeatedly.
“We have this brochure for parents that actually tells them what bullying is,” Martinez said, adding that if an instance of bullying comes to her attention, “I confront both kids.”
Instances of bullying many not be as common at the elementary school level as it is for older grades, which is why the Boys & Girls Teen Center on Marigold Avenue in Poinciana has programs to teach kids about what bullying is, and why it’s wrong, said Augustus Omolara, the program assistant for the center that opened in July to provide a safe place for students who are between the ages of 10 and 18.
“We have special programs we run here,” including one on bullying, said Omolara. It includes how to avoid getting into a fight at a party, which he said can be a common problem for high school boys.
“When they are growing up, they learn how to be adults,” he said. “We teach them to follow the law. There are things you cannot do. Don’t go out and fight with someone. If you go to a party and someone wants to fight, we teach them what to do. You just walk away. Walk away from that party. Go home or call your parents.”
Since teenage boys often hang out at the Teen Center, Omolara said, “We keep an eye on every one here and teach them, ‘No bullying here.’ “
It’s worked, he said, since the center has not had reports of bullying problems in the nearly four months it’s been in operation.
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