Opinion: Educators urge, offer resources for family conversations

Elk River area educators like Marco Voce and Vanessta Spark are urging families to talk with youngsters about bullying. Judging from a statewide survey of thousands of Minnesota sixth-, ninth- and 12th-graders, this is an issue for a lot of young people. Here’s what educators are suggesting, and here’s what the survey found.

Last year, more than 70 percent of Minnesota’s sixth-, ninth- and 12th-graders responded (voluntarily) to a survey from the Minnesota Department of Education. More than one-half of Minnesota’s sixth-graders, more than one-third of ninth-graders, and more than one-fourth of 12th-graders reported they had been bullied or excluded from activities by other youngsters within the last 30 days.

Marco Voce, principal at Zimmerman High School, responded to my inquiry about this: “Usually the biggest problem is that the school doesn’t get notified until it has been going on beyond a reasonable time frame. I would suggest reporting as soon as possible. We tend to deal with bullying in stages (depending on how severe the bullying is):



•Suspension and referral to county bullying class, and


If it is severe or breaks a law, some early steps may be skipped. We tend to be able to end bullying in the first step or two.

Vanessta Spark, administrator at Spectrum (charter) High School in Elk River, described what that school is doing, including a video the school’s students have created: “Spectrum High School has two seminars for various grades that pertain to bullying, cyber bullying, and sexting. Each fall, staff use a service learning bullying program that was developed three years ago. A video was made by Spectrum students and the acronym S.T.A.N.D. is stressed. Stay together, Talk to the bully and ask them to please stop, Always tell an adult, Never answer a cyberbully, and Defend someone. Here is the link to our video; please watch http://www.youtube.com/embed/9lQ7VwPaXkI.”

Jeffrey McGonigal, principal at Coon Rapids High School, urged conversations with teenagers, and recommended a well done “You Tube” video on the Internet. He wrote:

“Let youngsters know you have the right to check on cyber communications and will ask questions. Without establishing a parental role, teens will close out their parents in this world that has so many potential dangers.

“Last week we shared a video and brochure school-wide produced by Josten’s called ‘Pause Before You Post.’ In addition we e-mailed home a link for parents so they could follow-up with the topic at home. Here it is: http://www.jostens.com/students/students_cp_pause_before_you_post.html.”

McGonigal reported that he “walked by classrooms as it was being aired and students were unusually attentive. I think it is because they have received so little guidance on this medium they use so much. Teachers followed up with discussion that seemed quite valuable. Of course we hope parents did as well.”

The video lasts less than two minutes and it’s very well done.

The problem is real. Parents can help solve it. — Joe Nathan

(Editor’s note: Nathan, a former public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change at Macalester College. He welcomes reactions, [email protected])


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