Anti-bullying committee forms

Caledonia Area Elementary School instructor Scott Koepke, who organized the meeting, made a point while discussing bullying issues. Photo by Clay Schuldt

By Clay Schuldt
Special for the Argus

On March 5 a group of teachers, administrators, and parents met in the Caledonia Elementary School Media Center to discuss long term solutions for dealing with student bullying. The meeting attracted representatives from the St. Mary’s, St. John’s and the public school in an effort to confront the common problem together.

Attending the meeting were second grade teacher Scott Koepke, parent Katie Koepke, elementary phy-ed teacher Jane Meisch, elementary family support worker Julie O’Mara-Meyer, counselor Judy Flaten, St. John’s Principal John Hahm, fifth grade teacher Mitch Mullins, St. Mary’s Principal Tom Reichenbacher, second grade teacher Peggy Purcell, parent Marian Gavin, and parent Mike Morey.

This initial meeting was intended to begin organizing and preparing a committee to prevent ongoing bullying problems in the school district.

Koepke set up the meeting after a series of incidents came up in his classroom saying, “I was shocked by the pattern my seven and eight year-olds were exhibiting.”

This prompted Koepke to attend a workshop held by Educate Minnesota on the subject where he was advised to get the community on board. Information at the workshop estimated that two out of every 10 kids get bullied, not taking into account cyber bullying which has been on the rise. The idea for the committee began after Sarah Ford from Educate Minnesota advised schools to get the community involved with any and all anti-bullying policies at the school.

In the past the Caledonia Area School District had worked to combat bullying with success.  However the committee disbanded after bullying incidents subsided and many of the same issues returned with the younger students. This new committee will be intended as a continual organization which will remain active.

“We created a policy six years ago and found that it needed to be updated,” explained Elementary Family Support Worker Julie O’Mara-Meyer. St. John’s and St. Mary’s would setup policies to fit their individual schools, but the plan is to have consistent rules for the district rather than contradict one another.

O’Mara-Meyer explained that another early goal of the committee would be to figure out which community members needed to be part of the anti-bullying efforts, such as parents, school board members, law enforcement officials and students. One of the goals of the committee is alert the public to the issues.  “We want this message to get out to community members and parents so they can be part of this committee.”

As the committee is still in the planning stages, the group is still working on an approach for preventing bullying. It did discuss utilizing the “bystander” approach.  The bystander approach is when an individual witnessing an act of bullying steps in to stop the pattern of harassment. This could be as simple as reporting incident to a teacher or standing up for the victim of bullying.

“Much of the bullying will stop if someone steps in,” commented Peggy Purcell.

The trick to implementing the bystander method is finding ways to empower students to stand up each other, but the committee is optimistic that it could be done.

“We have a lot of great kids in this community,” said Koepke. “I think if we can get kids to stick up for those being bullied that could put a stop to a lot of problems.”

The committee plans to invite Sarah Ford from the Educate Minnesota to their next meeting, which is planned for the beginning of April, to assist with organization.

The committee will alert the public when the next meeting will be scheduled and encourage anyone in the community to offer support.