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Seminar explores bullying issue, solutions

BY KATHLEEN FOXkfox@paducahsun.com

An all-day seminar put a spotlight on bullying and its causes, repercussions and preventive measures.

The anti-bullying seminar was held Wednesday at the Crisp Center, the Paducah campus of Murray State University.

Sessions included topics on bullying in schools, suicide prevention, cyber-bullying and the neurological effects of bullying.

Allan Beane, keynote speaker and founder of the Bully Free Program, emphasized some of the issues he has seen in schools and corrective methods to decrease the likelihood of bullying.

"You can't just do something about bullying in a one-shot effort; it has to be an everyday way of life," he said.

Beane said the key to success lies in instituting a wide-reaching district-wide prevention program and educating all faculty, administration, staff members and parents. He emphasized that large events and speakers are positive but the message has to be reinforced daily from everyone in the school district.

"It's the little things that we do every day that makes a difference in attitude, thinking and behavior," he said.

He cautioned against the most common mistakes seen in schools, including incomplete zero-tolerance or peer mediation policies that are difficult to enforce, a tendency to blame or punish the victim, and a lack of timely investigation or complete supervision.

Susan Guess, co-founder of the Guess Anti-Bullying Foundation, said the key to stopping bullying lies in community-wide education and communication.

"This is not as much about what is happening in our schools as it is about who we all are as human beings," she said. "Bullying happens in schools but it also happens at church, at home and in the workplace."

Guess and daughter Morgan are working to convince Gov. Steve Beshear to appoint a statewide task force on bullying. She said the key message to students is to be themselves and to stand up for themselves.

"I think the real message for kids is they have a voice and they can use it for good," she said. "We have a real opportunity for Kentucky to lead the way for other states and we will continue our work until we reach that goal."

Participants could also attend an open meeting of the interlocal task force and watch a screening of the movie "Bully." The 2011 documentary directed by Lee Hirsch followed five students in different schools nationwide who were being bullied during the 2009-2010 school year.

The Guess Anti-Bullying Foundation will bring Kirk Smalley, whose son's story was featured in the movie, and director Hirsch to Paducah to give two presentations next Jan. 30. The second meeting of the Paducah Kindness Council will begin at 4 p.m. April 17 at the Crisp Center.

The event was presented by the Bully Free Programs, the Guess Anti-Bullying Foundation, Four Rivers Behavioral Health, the Paducah Police Department, Kentucky Center for School Safety, Kentucky Suicide Prevention and the Paducah-McCracken County Area Anti-Bullying Task Force.

Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.

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