• 42 percent of children have been bullied online; 25 percent have been verbally attacked more than once.
• 35 percent of children have been threatened online.
• 58 percent of children and teens report that mean things have been said about them or to them online.
In an era of constant contact, teens can snap, shoot and text whenever they want, and the tentacles of schoolyard bullying now reach far beyond the jungle gym.
For children or teens with a Facebook page or a cellphone, bullying can feel like a life sentence. Even when they leave school, bullying reaches them through cyberspace.
Suicides, locally and nationally, among young teens have tipped off schools, states and media to a bullying epidemic. One out of every four children will be bullied during their adolescence, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
But in Chattanooga, a pilot program that is using books and the arts to encourage students to talk about social issues such as bullying is reaching students early on.
“Bullying thrives in silence,” said Karen Glenn, director of Students Taking a Right Stand, which trains teachers and provides resources to prevent bullying in Hamilton County schools. “It may be unreported. There are a lot of blurred boundaries about what is conflict and what is bullying. A true understanding is important for everyone so we can respond to it in the most appropriate way.”
Teaching students to stand up to physical threats or personal attacks and come forward will prepare them for the rest of their lives and save lives, said Missy Crutchfield, administrator of the Chattanooga Department of Education, Arts and Culture, who helped start “What’s Going On?”
“It happens at the workplace. It doesn’t stop when you grow up,” said Crutchfield. “We don’t wake up one morning and are healed. That’s a fairy tale. It’s a daily effort to keep our hands around our kids.”
The program to fold education about bullying into arts and literacy education was launched in 2009 by the city and is being discussed at the Arts Education Partnership National Forum in Chattanooga this week.
The Tennessee Ballet will perform an interpretive dance about bullying. Crutchfield and Glenn will participate in a panel discussion titled “What’s Going On? Addressing Social Issues like Bullying through Arts and Literacy.” Other panelists include Sophie Epstein, Girls Preparatory School student and editor-in-chief of Chattanooga Teen Scene magazine, and David and Tina Long, a Murray County, Ga., couple who were featured in the documentary film “Bully” after their son, Tyler, committed suicide because of bullying.
Crutchfield said she wants to pitch Chattanooga’s youth-driven reading programs, collaborative art projects and models for positive peer pressure as a national model to prevent bullying.
“The arts open you up to discussions about issues,” she said. “You get kids excited. You wake them up and they learn.”
Students and teachers who have participated in the “What’s Going On?” program have read “Enemy Pie” by Derek Munson and “Letters to a Bullied Girl” by Olivia Gardner and discussed them in and outside class.
“It’s really important to integrate the issue of bullying into education as many ways as possible, whether its through dance or rap or poetry, because it makes it real,” Glenn said.
To further the conversations, the city Department of Education, Arts and Culture has partnered in publishing a magazine, “Think & Draw and Talk About It,” every year that encourages students to draw about social issues like bullying and make statements about those drawings.
Officials said these types of efforts help make the community-wide problems personal for the children who participate.
“Art allows a different expression,” Glenn said. “Students that aren’t verbal will respond to a picture or a drawing.”
Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...