Strategies to deal with bullying at Northwest Passage school

Bullying in schools has been a hot button topic among parents, teachers, administrators and students.

Stories of bullying, including both physical and emotional abuse as well as cyber bullying, have made the headlines across the country.

During the 2013 legislative session, the Minnesota House passed the Safe Schools for All bill, which had the support of Gov. Mark Dayton, but it failed to pass the Senate this session.

The proposed bill would have bolstered the current 37-word anti-bullying law by guiding policy and defining bullying as “any word or action, in person or online, that disrupts a student’s education,” according to Peter Wieczorek, director of Northwest Passage High School, a charter school in Coon Rapids.

The school has adopted the existing law but applies a number of other strategies to eliminate bullying, Wieczorek said.

“The school’s design principles of small school (no more than 185 students), small class sizes (maximum of 15 students to every one teacher), long-term advisers (students are assigned an adviser who works with them throughout their high school career) and intentional community building all create a sense of ownership and belonging that discourages bullying,” he said.

“When students and staff know each other on a first-name basis while learning and working together, it promotes a much more cooperative environment.”

Jesse Regal, a junior at Northwest Passage, noticed that a large number of students coming to Northwest Passage had experienced bullying in their previous schools, he said.

Inspired by these conversations, Regal decided to do a project on bullying.

He researched the topic, surveyed students and created a visual presentation identifying the causes and effects of bullying.

From his research Regal said he discovered 66 percent of the students at Northwest Passage had experienced bullying at their former schools.

“NWPHS is the school to go to if you were bullied,” he said. “Everyone fits in and we don’t judge. We don’t ask why you came to this school, we just accept you for who you are.”

Claudia Medina recently completed her freshman year at Northwest Passage. She shared her experiences at her former school.

“Well, the main reason I left my other high school was because I would get bullied,” Medina said.

“I would get picked on for the clothes I wore and the music that I would listen to. They would say things like ‘Ew, why would you wear that?’ or ‘You listen to that kind of music? Emo loser.’  It was pretty hard to focus with those words running through my head all day,” Medina said. “People would say I dressed the way I did just for attention.

“Life at that school was pretty hard, and I was only there for three weeks. How ridiculous is that? I knew if I stayed longer that it would escalate and get worse,” she said.

According to Medina, at Northwest Passage, she can be herself and at the same time pursue her individual academic interests.

Throughout the past school year, Wieczorek said he has seen a dramatic increase in the number of parents who have toured the school specifically because their students have experienced bullying on some level.

“Beyond test scores and academic programs, I have found that for most parents their No. 1 concern is that their children are safe and free to learn without fear of being bullied,” he said.

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