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Today's word on journalism

May 12, 2009

The Last WORD


The Fat Lady Sings, Off-Key, Drools

At about this time every year, like the swallows to Capistrano or the buzzards to Hinckley, Ohio, the WORD migrates to its summer musing grounds at the sanitarium —St. Mumbles Home for the Terminally Verbose.

The reason is clear, and never moreso than as this season —the WORD's 13th —peters out.

It's been a fraught year of high palaver and eye-popping transition, both good and not-so-much. An interminable presidential campaign saga finally did end, and in extraordinary and historic fashion. Meanwhile, the bottom and everything that's below the bottom fell out of the economy, with families, homes, entire industries and —of particular interest to WORDsters and the civic-minded —dozens of daily newspapers ("I don't so much mind that newspapers are dying--it's watching them commit suicide that pisses me off." --Molly Ivins). . . all evaporating. What replaces them, from the individual to the institutional to the societal? Are we looking at a future of in-depth Tweeting?

As any newsperson or firehorse knows, it's hard to turn your back on day-to-day catastrophe --we just have to look at the car wreck. But even the most deranged and driven need a rest. As philosopher Lilly Tomlin once observed, "No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up."

So this morning, as a near-frost hovered over northern Utah, the unmarked van pulled into the driveway and the gentle, soft-spoken men in the white coats rolled the WORD out of bed and into a straitjacket for the usual summer trip to St. Mumbles, where the blathering one will be assigned a hammock and fed soothing, healthy foods --like tapioca, dog biscuits and salmon --while recharging the essential muscles of cynicism, outrage, sarcasm, social engagement and high-mindedness, in preparation for the next edition.
Summer well, friends.

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Las Vegas schools struggle with how to deal with bullies

By Leavitt Wells

May 5, 2009 | LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Hazing isn't new to Clark County School District, according to Judy Wells, a student advocate for protecting against bullying, teasing, hazing and initiations. The district claims to have a "Zero Tolerance Policy" on bullying, teasing and hazing. The problem is students and staff alike don't know how to handle the intimidation issue.

"Please don't come to school," Michael LoBello, a freshman, was told by one of his friends. "If you do, we've got your back, but we've been getting warnings that you'll get beat up."

LoBello plays football at Spring Valley High School in Las Vegas. Earlier that day LoBello had reported two of his teammates to the Dean's office after he saw them wearing t-shirts that contained obscene comments directed at himself and another player on the team. "I was hurt," LoBello said.

"Something needs to be done about this issue," said Wells.

"The big key is to educate," Wells said. "You have to teach, educate [and] discipline," which is exactly what Wells said she is doing.

Wells said she is in the process of developing a system to be implemented in the school districts across the nation. "The goal is to create a mandate throughout the schools, so that when bullying is reported there will be a system that each of the schools will follow," she said. In addition to standards for punishing the culprits, Wells said she plan contains procedures for protecting victims and whistle-blowers.

Wells said students need opportunities to report the bullying, teasing, hazing, or initiation. Ideally, victims would report the behavior to teachers, deans, and other staff, but it is also important to create anonymous ways to report.

Once someone reports the behavior, the school needs to promise it will follow through with the issue and will handle it quickly and efficiently.

The school also needs to reassure and protect the victim at the same time, which is something that LoBello didn't feel was offered to him after he reported the incident.

"My principal gave me two options: 1) stay home for the next three days, or 2) leave my classes five minutes early so that I wouldn't have to see them."

Wells also said the new system would encourage counseling, especially CBT (cogitative behavior therapy), which involves replacing negative thoughts with positive ones.

Wells is focusing on not just the victim, but the bully as well. She plans to have the school call the bully in and notify his or her parents. The school will suspend the student and even consider expulsion, depending on the action.

LoBello found the lack of school intervention frustrating. The students who wore the t-shirts were only RPC'd (requested parent conference), and they were back at school the following day. This caused LoBello's friends to warn him.

Wells also said not only will the bully be suspended, but he or she will also be removed from further extracurricular activities such as sports, dance, theater, chess club, and so forth.

Bullies will have to fulfill service hours and be allowed to perform complete restitution to the victim. "The whole point is to show that there is a zero tolerance toward this kind of behavior," said Wells.

Finally, Wells suggests the bully receive the same form of counseling and therapy as the victim.

"These policies and mandates can be put into action now, but it also needs to have heavy stimulation of educating our students and parents," Wells explained.

Wells plans to implement the program with the extracurricular activities in high school. Her plan requires showing a video to all clubs and teams explaining what bullying, teasing, hazing, and initiation are. Students will then be taught why they can't participate in such behavior, and what the disciplinary actions will be if they choose to participate.

From there, the curriculum will be taught in the life strategies and health classrooms in the high schools, and eventually be implemented in the junior highs and elementary schools. "We need to get this program to the kindergartners . . . so that once [they] are in high school; there are no longer fires that need putting out."

It may take a little while to implement the program throughout all the schools but Wells said she is looking forward to the challenge.

Since the incident at school, LoBello has talked with the bullies, who apologized. One even said, "I didn't know it was hurting you that much." Wells also comments that while giving presentations to various groups, teenagers have said to her, "I knew it wasn't right, but I just didn't know it would hurt that bad."

LoBello also likes the idea of the new system. "I think that is a great system to make bullies stop bullying," he said. "I mean, it won't completely cease, but it will decrease drastically."

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