Take a stand, lend a hand

WAILUA — Micah Miller, 10, loves to draw and have a good laugh.

But Miller can still remember when a student at his school walked up to him one day during recess as he sat on the ground and kicked over a drawing he was working on.

“I didn’t stick up for myself but another student stuck up for me,” Miller recalled. “The guy later apologized and I felt better and kept drawing.”

It was an incident that, he said, “was very hurtful” and should be addressed more in Kauai’s schools.

“I feel bullying should not be allowed,” said Miller, who proposed that school administrators create a “bully duty” process in which students and staff members would be in charge of making sure there is no bullying in their class.

“Physical and mental bullying are the same — both are very hurtful,” Miller said. “I think our school should do more to protect kids.”

It is a long-standing challenge that school administrators, community officials and advocates say has been difficult to address.

“It’s very frustrating to see the kinds of problems kids are having,” Hawaii State Board of Education Member Nancy Budd said on Monday during a bullying prevention training discussion co-hosted by the Kauai chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbian and Gays on Monday at the Aston Aloha Beach Resort.  

“A number of victims have been showing up in teen court as well, because they are finally fighting back,” said Budd, a Kauai Teen Court judge. “As the teen court judge you want to say, ‘Good for you,’ but that’s just not the answer. At the school level, we’re hearing a number of schools want more police at the school and we’re finding that’s probably not the answer, either.”

A new generation, challenge

Complex Area Superintendent Bill Arakaki said he grew up at a time when there were no iPhones or computers in his home.

Today, things are different. Children are growing up around new and constant advances in technology.

It is a factor some say has changed the traditional ways in which bullying takes place and created a new challenge in the ongoing battle against it.

“Nowadays, with technology, the hardest thing is to be able to track the communication that comes out from a person who bullies someone else,” Arakaki said. “I’m not sure if it’s a program but they can post something really nasty about your child or someone and it disappears in seconds before we can print it, save it, and have it as evidence for us. I’m sure the Kauai Police Department can recover it but we cannot once it disappears.”

According to Kauai County figures from the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7.7 percent of students did not attend school within the past 30 days because they felt unsafe. Another 16.3 percent of students reported they were victims of cyberbullying, and 20.3 percent reported they were bullied on campus over the past year.

The state Department of Education, he said, has explicit definitions and rules that include cyberbullying with traditional forms of harassment, such as physical, verbal or written threats.

Exacting the appropriate punishment for these acts, however, is a more complicated matter.

“For discipline, we can suspend students, send them to detention, counsel students and so on, but suspensions and detentions don’t really change behavior,” Arakaki said. “It’s part of it, but basically, we want to change the heart and change the way they treat each other. You have to get to the root of that.”

Kumu Brad Lum, a state Department of Education Hawaiian studies teacher, said part of the solution is tailoring lesson plans that teach basic values, such as hoihi (respectful behavior of self, others and all things) and lokahi (unity and harmony obtained through balance), and can be applied to anyone.

“Our children these days are so disconnected, because they’re always working on the computer and they’re always looking at texting,” Lum said. “They don’t know how to touch, they don’t know how to hug.”

Tara Randol said her son, Sean, has been bullied by his classmates and teammates on his sports teams ever since they moved to Kauai when he was just 4 years old.

“I don’t feel that the schools are doing what they need to do,” Tara said at the training event. “I do think parents need more education but the problem is that I don’t know how to get that out to them, because the people who would come to something like this aren’t those parents. We have trouble getting that message out to people — the people who really need to hear it — and that’s unfortunate.”

Improvement in progress

There was a time, Arakaki said, when bullying was considered by some to be a taboo subject.

That viewpoint, however, can no longer be the case, he said.

“It’s about values that all of us have as a culture,” Arakaki said. “All of us were raised that way somehow — your parents and grandparents taught you these things. All cultures have those things and we need to bring it back into the school system.”

Some of those efforts, school administrators say, are beginning to take root.

On Kauai, for example, DOE administrators are beginning to partner with Phyllis Kunimura, a local author on bullying and the founder of the Kauai Independent Daycare Services, Inc., to provide empathy resolution sessions for children across the island from preschool to second grade.

At Waikiki Elementary School on Oahu, a grassroots program called “Philosophy for Children,” which teaches children how interact with each other with deep respect, has spread to Kailua High School and resulted in a zero percent referral rate.

And similar efforts statewide seem to be paying off, at least as far as statistics are concerned.

In the 2013 School Quality Survey administered by the Hawaii Department of Education, about 83 percent of fourth and fifth graders, 78.6 percent of seventh and eighth graders, and 70.9 percent of ninth and eleventh graders on Kauai who responded to the survey agreed that their school effectively prevents bullying and handles discipline in appropriate and timely manner.

Two years ago, only 68.7 percent of fourth and fifth graders, 47.5 percent of seventh and eighth graders, and 41.4 percent of ninth and eleventh graders on the island agreed with the same question.

Some say that is not enough.

“To me, every student counts,” Arakaki said. “At the state, we look at numbers and anything over 75 percent is said to be doing a good job, but that’s not good enough for me. Even at the elementary school level, the numbers say there is still something going on. We have to be 90 and above or at least 95 and above — even 90 is not acceptable.”

• Darin Moriki, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0428 or dmoriki@thegardenisland.com.

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