How to approach the problem
It is important for adults and, more specifically, drivers to be equipped with tools to help prevent and curtail bullying on their buses.
Blackwelder is in the process of releasing a one-hour video on bullying and harassment (Bullies/Harassment). In it, she discloses the characteristics of bullies and victims, then discusses the long-term consequences for their behavior. She also offers strategies for preventing bullying and assisting victims with self-esteem and conflict-resolution issues.
Blackwelder suggests that while it is important to work with bullies to help them change their behavior, it is equally important to spend time with victims when bullying has been exposed. “Once you’re a victim of bullying, you can’t get out from under it — it’s a cycle,” Blackwelder says. “Adults need to help the victims realize that they have other options — they don’t have to be a victim.”
According to Blackwelder, 80 percent of students do not take part in bullying, but they also do not report such incidents; in this way, they are tacitly approving the bullies’ behavior. She suggests that bus drivers should appeal to that 80 percent of students. “Peer pressure is a huge deterrent when it comes to bullying,” Blackwelder explains. “If enough kids tell a person that what they’re doing isn’t right, the bullying can be stopped.”
DeLara has interviewed many students to uncover what they believe are the best methods to prevent bullying on school buses. “Students wish their drivers would intervene [when bullying occurs],” she says. “Of course, they realize that the drivers are trying to keep the bus safely on the road, so they suggest that there should be another adult present on the bus.”
DeLara reasons that some school districts cannot afford bus monitors. Therefore, she believes that there are things drivers can do to help prevent incidents from occurring. First, deLara advocates creating a warm and inviting environment in the school bus. She has found that 10 percent of students say that their bus driver is the person they talk to if they need help solving a problem. “Some kids don’t come from very good homes, so if they get on a bus and their driver greets them and gives them attention, the kids will feel safe and feel like this is an adult who cares about them,” she says.
DeLara also urges drivers to make their voices heard. “Oftentimes drivers feel like what they have to say goes unattended to. They may be having a problem with a particular kid on a chronic basis, but they can’t get anyone to pay attention to them, even after they file the disciplinary report,” she reveals. To remedy this, she says it is crucial for drivers to get informed about bullying and gather the support of their managers. “Drivers need to not just complain among themselves about the problem,” says deLara. “They need to get a coalition of people together, gain the support of their managers, go to school administrators and say ‘We want to see some changes.’ The only way to move any system is with the concerted effort of a group of people.”
Furthermore, deLara suggests that drivers should have a representative on their school’s safety planning team. “Each year, schools involve teachers, administrators and someone from the community in their safety planning team, but they really need to have bus drivers and students on that team in an ongoing fashion,” she says. “If they don’t include the drivers and students, they’re missing the perspectives of a whole segment of the population that they’re coming up with a safety plan for.”
Michael Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens International, a nonprofit school safety center based in Macon, Ga., has trained bus drivers on bullying prevention for many years. In addition to establishing a no-tolerance attitude toward bullying, he urges drivers to pay attention to students’ demeanors (body language, facial expressions, composure) when they enter and exit the school bus. “Students who are chronically bullied rarely tell an adult while they’re in school, usually because they believe that the adults don’t care or can’t do anything about the problem,” he says. “The more drivers reach out to their students, the more inclined a child will be to approach the driver if he or she is having a problem.”
Dorn also advocates maintaining discipline aboard the bus. “Bullying tends to occur more frequently and more severely in locations where children are not disciplined as much as they should be,” he explains, “so it’s critical for drivers to maintain discipline within the realm that they are authorized to do so.”
Cassandra Ingham works as an educational institutions staff specialist for Utica National Insurance in New Hartford, N.Y. Ingham has hosted numerous bullying awareness, intervention and prevention workshops for staff members in the schools that Utica National insures. Ingham says one of the most proactive things a driver can do with respect to bullying is pull over and intervene immediately if he or she notices bullying occurring. “It’s called the ‘teachable moment’ because it’s a time when the driver can point out the problematic behavior and inform the child that what they’re doing is wrong,” she explains.
If a driver is unable to intervene immediately, Ingham recommends issuing a verbal warning to the student doing the bullying and then notifying the appropriate school official about the incident.