Bandon School District - bullying policy

Bandon Ocean Crest Elementary School students sit on the "Buddy Bench" on the school's playground before classes. The bench is a way for children to signal they are feeling alone or left out and would like some company or to be included. 

BANDON — October is National Bullying Prevention Month, but at the Bandon School District it is just like any other month in the year.

“When children are aggressive against other people, it is an unmet social emotional need,” explained Becky Armistead, principal at Ocean Crest Elementary and special education director for Bandon School District.

Since arriving at the BSD five years ago, Armistead helped implement educational elements to help students cope with complex emotions that might be the root cause of bullying.

“Acting out might be a need for love and acceptance, a need to feel safe,” she said. “They drop into the ‘downstairs brain’ or the need to know you are safe. If they are living in that survival brain where we see physical outbursts, they are in the fight or flight part of the brain. When we see unkind comments, or ‘mean girl’ behavior as we called it when I was a kid, it comes from the need to feel important, loved and have a sense of belonging.”

Armistead and staff members teach children how the brain works so they can understand their emotions and self-regulate.

“We believe if we address the child who is lashing out, it stops the behavior from negatively impacting the victims of the behavior,” she said.

When Armistead arrived at BSD, she implemented Kelso’s Choice Complex Management program, which teaches students skills on solving conflict. The curriculum is co-presented once a week by the district’s counselor, who is also a mental health therapist with Coos Health and Wellness, and the library media clerk.

Specifically in the last week or two, there has been more work done with students in understanding how brains work and skills to work through emotions such as breathing techniques.

Now that the program has been in effect for four full years, Armistead said she has seen students able to use words describing what’s happening and how they have tried to resolve the conflicts when they ask an adult for help.

“Recess support aids are trained on the language, so when we started this and a student approached them on the playground then the aid would ask if they tried Kelso’s Choices,” Armistead said. “Now, students approach them saying this is what they’ve tried, now they need help.”

Kinder, gentler experience

Interestingly, Armistead has noticed students who transfer into the district from neighboring schools, counties and from out of state who haven’t been raised with these programs take a while to acclimate to “the culture.”

“There is a difference between children raised in this culture and children brought into it,” she said. “There is a behavior difference. We try to have a kinder, gentler experience here.”

One student who transferred to BSD from out of the county presented behavioral issues as a result from a rough experiences already in their short life. After an outburst in class, this student was sent to Armistead’s office and the student’s first question was, “Are you going to suspend or expel me?”

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Armistead explained that she wanted to talk through the problem and resolve it. After teaching the student coping techniques for their valid frustration, and how to better handle that kind of frustration, the student asked, “That’s it?”

Her response was, “Yes.”

“And (they) shook (their) head and said that they were going to like it here,” Armistead remembered. “I think Ocean Crest was one of a lot of changes in helping that child.”

When the word “bullying” was brought up, Armistead said it is a hot topic in schools that is often misunderstood.

“In education, we have a specific definition for it,” she said. “It has five facets, defined by targeted behavior, one-sided behavior, behavior happening over time, if there is some sort of power differential in either age or size or social status, and if the behavior continues after adult intervention.”

When asked if BSD has an issue with bullying in its student population, Armistead said no, based on that definition. However, there is a problem with conflict.

In addition to teaching how the brain works and proper coping techniques in conflict resolution, Ocean Crest has a “reset station” where children come together to work through problems with an adult.

“We have a special education assistant who works with students through low level problem solving,” she said. “We have conflicts and students who feel picked on, but when we look at an issue it might be a student who is acting out because of developmental struggles with impulse control. It is still an issue, but not bullying. At the elementary level, we teach students how to regulate themselves and understand how their behavior impacts others and where bad behavior might be coming from.”

Oregon Tip Line

For the rest of the district, Superintendent Doug Ardiana highlighted the Oregon Tip Line where bullying and other issues can be reported. For more information on the tip line, visit www.safeoregon.com.

Through that tip line, where complaints are made anonymously, Ardiana said BSD ranges in bullying complaints.

“We got a tip this week,” he said. “It ranges from a month where we get five or six and go a couple months without any, so it all depends.”

Though the district works hard in curriculum, tip lines, reset stations and buddy benches where a student can sit down and other students know to include them in a game or sit to just talk, Ardiana goes out of his way to make sure students know they can always come to him as well.

In his 32 years of working in education, he has always met students when they get off the bus and greets them. These days, he greets students arriving at the cafeteria for breakfast at 7:45 a.m. and carries what he describes as a “handy dandy” notebook to write down any problems he is told.

“I get a lot of information on what happened the day or two before,” he said. “It’s about being visible, approachable and consistent. That’s what we try and do here at our district.”

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.