Written by: Aayush Dubey
Over the past year, the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) has worked to develop new bullying policies and procedures in response to new state laws and to fulfill requirements of its resolution agreement with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) regarding recent disability-based harassment cases. According to Superintendent Kevin Skelly in his Mar. 6 message to the community, the school board is now working to implement a “comprehensive training and outreach program…throughout the District.”
In light of the recent focus on bullying policies and awareness programs, it should be noted that the most effective methods of bullying prevention are those that engage the students on an emotional level. Gunn’s emphasis on student participation in its student wellness programs, such as Not In Our School (NIOS) Week and the soon-to-be-implemented digital citizenship lesson, is key to providing a safe environment for students at school. The district should similarly focus on student involvement in any programs implemented in the future for all schools in the district.
NIOS Week aims to impart students at Gunn with an important message of acceptance and respect through its activities, according to math teacher Daisy Renazco, who helps organize the campaign. Instead of students passively watching a presentation, these activities challenge students to share their experiences and learn to understand their differences. For example, as part of the “Considering Our Differences” activity hosted on Tuesday of the week, freshmen participate in a learning disability simulation. This valuable exercise allows students to understand what it means to have a learning disability, thereby building empathy. Because such NIOS activities directly involve the students, they leave a longer-lasting message. The district should develop similar activities in all of its schools. Doing so will promote personal investment in bullying prevention throughout all schools, ultimately increasing the district’s safety overall.
Gunn will also conduct a lesson plan on digital citizenship in October. According to social studies teacher Ronen Habib, who helped organize it, the lesson will teach students how to deal with digital drama through a series of exercises that will simulate cyber bullying scenarios students may encounter. After participating in the simulation within their B period class, students will discuss their thoughts with classmates in small groups. This emphasis of student involvement is key to ensuring students are receptive to a program’s message. By challenging the student to empathize with the situation on a personal level, such as in a simulation, lesson plans are more likely to have students respond to the message.
Increased personal involvement by students is a significant and necessary change that the district should adopt in its future student wellness programs. With NIOS Week and digital citizenship lesson plans in mind as effective examples, PAUSD can ensure students are receptive to the crucial idea of accepting their peers, no matter the differences that may exist among them.
—Dubey, a junior, is a reporter.