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Monday, March 19, 2012

Mid-year report shows most bullying occurring at middle schools

NASHUA – Middle schools continue to account for the bulk of bullying reports in the city’s schools.

Of the 131 bullying incidents reported in Nashua’s 17 schools as of March 1, 81, or nearly two-thirds, occurred at the city’s three middle schools.

The total number of incidents so far this year represents a slight decrease from a report issued for the time period last year, when 137 incidents were reported.

At Elm Street Middle School, bullying numbers dropped almost in half, from 40 incidents as of March 2011 compared to 22 incidents so far this year, but the numbers rose at both Fairgrounds and Pennichuck middle schools.

Pennichuck Middle School saw the largest increase in bullying, from 19 incidents as of last March compared to 36 incidents this year.

However, that doesn’t mean the school isn’t addressing the issues.

Interim Pennichuck Principal Lynne Joseph said the school has used posters and announcements to stress to students how words can hurt others, urging them to think about whether what they are saying is true and necessary.

Teachers are also talking to kids in the advisory period about the effect of name-calling, she said.

“We work hard to create a positive climate for our kids,” Joseph said.

Superintendent Mark Conrad said he was not surprised to see similar figures compared to last year. The slight fluctuation at particular schools is part of the normal variations that will occur year to year, he said, and only a consistent pattern is going to raise concerns.

“When you look at bullying behavior, it’s not the kind you’ll eliminate in six months to a year,” he said. “It takes time to develop that school climate. It’s going to take time to move those numbers down. I would expect that we continue to see this level over a number of years.”

Still, he said keeping the bullying numbers slightly below where they were last year shows him that school administrators are taking the issue seriously.

“It really says to me that our principals are continuing to focus on this as a priority to address in our schools,” he said.

Cyberbullying made up a small fraction of the bullying figures, with 12 reported incidents, despite concerns that the online form of bullying is more dangerous due to a lack of adult supervision.

New Hampshire passed a law last year requiring districts to report cyberbullying numbers to the state Department of Education, although school administrators have said it can be a difficult form of bullying to track because issues happen out of school and sometimes go unreported.

There were only 14 incidents of bullying at the two public high schools; five at North and nine at South.

Total bullying numbers dropped in the elementary schools as well, from 49 incidents as of March last year to just 36 so far this year. Three elementary schools – Charlotte Avenue, New Searles, and Sunset Heights – each reported zero incidents in the mid-year report. Fairgrounds Elementary School had the most bullying incidents of the 12 elementary schools, with seven.

Throughout the district’s 17 total schools, there have been over 70 different activities held over the past year as part of the effort to curb bullying. The school district holds anti-bullying assemblies and brings guidance counselors into classes to talk with students.

One of the most successful has been the high-school students from Nashua South traveling out to elementary and middle schools to talk to younger students about the importance of not bullying, Conrad said.

He said the older students have a “powerful” impact on the younger kids.

“That’s been very effective for both groups,” he said. “It’s been a really positive outcome.”

Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or ckittle@nashuatelegraph.com. Also check out Kittle (@Telegraph_CamK) on Twitter.