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At Fair Park Summit, Middle Schoolers Learn To 'Interrupt The Cycle' Of Bullying

Despite longstanding awareness of the problem, bullying persists — in schools, online and well into adulthood.

That’s why dozens of students and teachers from 15 public and private schools in Texas and Oklahoma gathered last week for the No Place for Hate Youth Summit. 

The daylong summit in Fair Park was sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, a 105-year-old nonprofit that fights anti-Semitism and hate. Cheryl Drazin, the ADL’s regional director, said it would be up the students and teachers to take the day’s lessons back to their schools.

“Student leaders are actually the perfect people to interrupt the cycle,” Drazin said. “Getting involved when you’re not necessarily the victim or the target, but you’re observing it, is the perfect role for these students to model for their campus.”

Drazin said bullying behavior can stop when others confront it early, before there’s any payoff to the bully.    

“If you think about hate as a pyramid, bullying and then ridicule are that very bottom that leads all the way up to genocide,” Drazin explained. “And the acts of hate and violence and discrimination are right there in the middle.

“And I remember enough of geometry that if you chip away at the bottom of a pyramid, it loses its stability,” she said.

Credit Courtesy of Anti-Defamation League
Click to enlarge.

That pyramid of hate also includes stereotyping and name-calling. Celina Prieur, a 14-year-old who attends the Greenhill School, had her own story.

“It was small things,” Celina said, “like how I talked or my appearance. A lot of times it’s stuff like, ‘Oh you’re probably not smart. You’re a blonde, white girl — how can you be in this class? Oh, your parents must have paid a lot for tutors,’ and things like that.”

Many of these kids, like Zara Cornaby, an eighth-grader at Dallas’ Alcuin School, said they knew bullies picked on their differences, even their passions. Zara wants to be a singer.   

“I got picked on for that and was told people would commit suicide if I ever got there, that I could never make it in that world — so, yes,” Zara said.

Bullies often exploit differences among classmates, according to Jeff Lipschultz, a group facilitator. During a morning session, he gathered the seventh- and eighth-graders in the middle of the room and told them to pick sides, then move to opposite ends of the room.

“If I said dog person and cat person, which would you be?” Lipschultz asked the kids, pointing which direction to head. “Dogs? And the cats? OK, this is a Texas question: Winter? Summer?”

Lipschultz’s inoffensive lesson is designed to teach students that bullies will take advantage of what seems totally innocent. It’s one thing to understand the psychology. It’s another, he said, to recognize the exploitation and stop it.

“We should stand up for victims and we should stand against these bullies,” Lipschultz said. “And maybe sending a message over time: It’s one thing to deal with these situations, but if it becomes a mainstream idea, then maybe bullies are just going to have to take a backseat and say, ‘I know what’s going to happen if I pick on this kid. I’m going to have 10 kids telling me to sit down and I’ll look stupid.”  

Lipschultz said no one likes looking stupid, especially bullies, who often pick on others to boost their own self-esteem. Cheryl Drazin’s brought this program to Dallas not only to help kids get through school, but life.

"If you chip away at the bottom of a pyramid, it loses its stability."

Bullying happens everywhere, Drazin said.

“We get calls for corporate anti-bully sessions, for boardrooms, for all kinds of adults, from every education level, every sophisticated market you can think of, because we didn’t interrupt the cycle sufficiently,” she said.

Eighth-grader Maya Morales says she picked up tips she’ll take back to Aubrey Middle School. 

“To be an ally,” Maya said. “And no matter if you like the person or not, if they’re getting bullied, you still have to help them, because nobody deserves to be bullied.”  

And everybody, said Maya, deserves help.

Resources on bullying and prevention

October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. Here are some resources for understanding bullying, promoting positive behaviors and intervening if problems arise. More from KERA Learn!

  • The site, from the U.S. government, helps adults talk about bullying, create a safe school environment and initiate community strategies for preventing bullying, including for cyberbullying.

  • "Start With Hello" from the Sandy Hook Promise asks students, educators, parents and other community leaders take steps to be inclusive and connected. It includes classroom objectives, discussion questions, key messages, activities and additional resources. 

  • Bullying uses bullying as a topic to help students build literacy skills by watching videos, reading informational text and writing about the role of personal freedom, particularly freedom of speech, and how bullying can limit freedoms. 

Two from PBS NewsHour Extra:

  • Bad Behavior Online: Bullying, Trolling & Free Speech is a video that explores how the internet can be both a positive and negative force, bringing out harmful behaviors like bullying and trolling. It seeks to foster discussions about internet regulation and free speech online. 

  • Developing Resilience is a staff development program for schools seeking to introduce resilience as a core value for students.
Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.