School buy-in stops bullying

Kudos to Department of Education Complex-Area Superintendent Bill Arakaki and the Kauai Principals who are actively stopping bullying in the schools. (TGI Feb. 2, 2017). It’s a huge job because evidence shows that it involves creating a school environment where bullying isn’t tolerated. Nearly everyone has to be on the same page about it.

It’s a national problem, so the U.S. government has created a wonderful website,, for students, families, school staff and others. It offers videos and links to stopbullying: Some videos are 2 1/2 minutes or less, and suitable to show on morning announcements. They could be shown at parent school functions. Some are for elementary school-age students, but are endearing to older students as well.

Others are targeting middle and high school-age students. Former Pres. Obama introduced one called, “Stop Bullying: Speak Up,” which is a montage of formerly bullied students, some of whom are now famous, realizing that the bullies made them think that something was wrong with them for a while. Then, they finally recognized that telling the truth about their tormentors was not tattling, or snitching to get people in trouble. It was about correcting a situation that is just not right. One girl put a video that addressed her bullying online, and two of her bullies came up to her and apologized.

One boy’s mother went to the bully’s parents to learn more about the bully. They became friends. Another victim’s last name was Cheese, and that was one of his tease factors. After he spoke up, he also befriended a bully, whose name was Mac. They both appreciated the idea that now they were “Mac and Cheese.”

Here are some quotations from the website:

w “Everyone deserves kindness.”

w “When we’re nicer it makes us feel happy.”

w “Make a friend. Make a difference.”

w “Tell someone, the sooner the better.”

w “Our parents need to be in our shoes, to feel it.”

w “Our teachers need to be able to recognize bullying better. That could make a big difference.”

w “Being a hero to bullying doesn’t mean that you have to fight. You can walk someone to class, or step in and see if they are OK.”

w “Stay strong. Stick together and speak up.”

“Be More than a Bystander” is a section in this vast website that addresses the fact that a bystander (one who just stands by and watches bullying happen) actually gives power to the bully. It says, “No one’s going to help.” Stand up for people, because in the long run it won’t matter who is stopping it, but you are helping someone, and might even save their life.” If standing up to a bully is too challenging, break up the crowd. “Show them that bullying’s not appreciated in this school.”

“It is a great source of good feeling and power for someone to be able to stand up for someone.”

They can do that by:

w Not giving bullying an audience

w Setting a good example,

w Helping the victim get away,

w Being the victim’s friend,

w Telling a trusted adult

I see a peaceful school as a spiral which places trusted adults in the center. Then there would be a group of peer mediators who have undergone specific training on the relationship of unmet needs to emotions, and a tried and true conflict resolution process. The peer mediators and the trusted adults then help coach all students in these skills to be applied on the spot when conflicts come up. We could think of them as the school’s eyes, because they could be anywhere. In a kind manner they could go in twos into a bullying situation and ask how they could help the victim. Others could kindly disperse the crowd.

I know I’m using the word “kind” repeatedly. It’s incredibly important to creating buy-in for all. If shaming or judging enters the picture, there can’t be universal acceptance.

Some schools have peer helpers who are identified by some insignia to indicate to other students and teachers that they are neutral, and care for all.

They also might be aware of the loners who separate from others. In a kind and sincere way the eyes might reach out to them. Maybe they don’t know how to make a friend very well. Maybe they think they are unlovable. Maybe they’ve been abused.

The artists and poets in the school could create beautiful peace murals, or a wall of famous peace quotations, as the Kapaa High School peer mediation team did. Hold a poster contest with the basic steps of conflict resolution on it. People need to read things 60 times or more to really get them into the quickly accessible neural network. Place the top winning posters in the areas where the most people can read them, or where people can use them to refer to. The physical environment of the school would already be speaking about the importance of active peacekeeping and respect without saying a word to all who entered.

Create a “Chill Out” club, where kids can talk with their friends about things that are making them angry. Friends can listen, ask helpful questions, and offer possible solutions. Having a “chill out” buddy you could call when you get angry might be helpful for a while until the situation gets resolved.

Encourage students to give positive feedback to students whom they see acting in a kind and helpful way.

In the peaceful school spiral conflicts are first met right when they happen, and helpful, kind action is taken. If the “eyes” can’t resolve it, it would go to the peer mediators. If they can’t resolve it, it goes to the trusted adults. If there are no observers, the victim would have the opportunity to access peer mediation. If that didn’t resolve it, it goes to the trusted adults.

The more people use the conflict resolution process and get used to attacking the problem, rather than each other, the more the process becomes second nature. The more we understand that we all have basic needs that need to be met, the more we can see our sameness, rather than differences.

And let’s get the communities involved as well. Hanalei Rotary helped fund Kilauea’s Peer Mediation training. Mediation training is available to all schools on this island for free from the KEO mediation program. However, it takes time and energy for a peer mediation facilitator to get a program going and sustained. I have asked various school officials and teachers what they thought would be a fair stipend to be paid per semester. I haven’t gotten a reply, although three different rotary clubs have told me that they would most likely be willing to pay something if the program had the backing of the principal, and they could show how it would help the school.

I was with Sonia Song and Jessie Basquez of the KEO Mediation Program as we presented to Kekaha Elementary School Staff what peer mediation was and how it could be used in the school. I mentioned the Hanalei Rotary’s support of Kilauea, and a person in that group said they knew someone in the local rotary. Perhaps that is the best way to help a school, by offering financial support to the facilitator, and some team start-up money, which the principals would request. Then maybe we can talk about team tee shirt donation. It takes a village!



Hale `Opio Kaua’i convened a support group of adults in our community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at For more information about Hale ‘Opio Kaua’i, please go to


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