Many schools are working to fight bullying and it’s important to help students deal with bullies.
Bullies have been a problem for Trinity Obregon. She is one of seven children and the sixth-grader said there are times when she has to work to keep her composure around unruly peers.
But violence prevention programs and other efforts to improve student behavior in Pinellas County’s struggling middle schools are helping Obregon and her classmates handle their emotions in their changing school environment.
“I liked learning how to control yourself when you get mad so you don’t hurt other people’s feelings,” Obregon said. “Now when I get anxious or nervous about stuff I try to take deep breaths, like when I had a big science test.”
Everyone at Pinellas Park Middle could benefit from taking deep breaths, said new Principal Dave Rosenberger. Pinellas Park is one of five county schools going through a state-mandated turnaround process after years of “D” and “F” school grades.
More than one-third of the school’s approximately 60 teachers have been replaced, and the school has new leadership, a new curriculum and a new coat of paint. Some students arrive at Pinellas Park as early as 6:30 a.m. and stay for after-school programs until 7 p.m.; and if kids are there that means the teachers are there, too.
Students now can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner for free at school, have their teachers help them with their homework after class and play games or indulge in other relaxing pastimes with school faculty on a social level instead of instructional.
But none of those efforts to change the school’s culture will be effective unless the students also adopt good behavior and character traits, said Nancy Friedman, program director for Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services.
“Research shows a very strong connection between social and emotional skills, behaviors and academics,” Friedman said. “When students and employees at a school practice empathy and are willing to see everyone’s perspective, students are more motivated to do well.
If they’re afraid of being harassed by other students or harbor lots of anger, they’re going to spend more time out of school and that’s going to be reflected in their grades.”