Middle School requires seventh graders to sign Anti-Bullying Pledge

As a result of an internal audit focusing on bullying last year, middle school students were introduced to an anti-bullying pledge, and deans attended a meeting on “Myth-Busting Research on Adolescent Bullying.”

Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts said these initiatives came in response to growing public attention to cyber-bullying in the media, but she does not believe that bullying is a problem at Harvard-Westlake.

The audit revealed that, though Harvard-Westlake does not have a bullying problem, the school should be working to prevent such problems, upper school dean Beth Slattery said. “We don’t see it as a huge problem here, compared to what other people are facing. We aren’t trying to put our heads in the sand, but we’re trying to be proactive as opposed to being reactive.”

Head of Middle School Jon Wimbish believes that a focus on anti-bullying is more beneficial at the Middle School because students are in a “developmental stage, because oftentimes in Middle School, kids have to re-establish some sort of hierarchy, and they don’t have the maturity and diplomacy to do that in a gentle way,” he said.

Though the internal audit included both the upper and middle school administrations, only middle school students were officially introduced to the anti-bullying pledge. The Honor Code implores a student to “let my conscience be my guide” and implicit in this is an understanding that students not bully one another, eighth grade dean Karen Fukushima said.

The Anti-Bullying Pledge acts as “a social reminder to our students, that this is a community where everyone should come here to feel safe, to feel respected,” Wimbish said.

Seventh grade students signed this new pledge on a poster that hangs in the seventh grade lounge, and eighth and ninth grade students read and discussed the pledge in break-out sessions, seventh grade dean Kate Benton said. Parents were emailed about the pledge and the accompanying class meetings.

The pledge is adapted from an Anti-Bullying/Cyber-bullying pledge created by Phil McGraw, host of “Dr. Phil.”

There are no plans to expand the pledge to the Upper School. In fact, upper school dean Tamar Adegbile was unaware that such a pledge existed.

As those students who have signed the pledge at the Middle School make their way to the Upper School, the pledge will expand to the Upper School with the students, Fukushima said. Current upper school students have neither signed the pledge nor seen it. Until then, upper school students, though not directly held accountable to the pledge, are expected to refrain from bullying as it is “not asking students to do anything that differently in their behavior, it’s the same sort of expectations of what we expect from a Harvard-Westlake student,” Fukushima said.

“I wouldn’t say that there was any expectation on our part to the anti-bullying pledge being signed by upper school students or distributed to upper school students,” Wimbish said. “I think each campus has to address their needs and meet their students where they are.”

Whereas the Anti-Bullying Pledge was only applicable to the Middle School, the meeting on “Myth-Busting Research on Adolescent Bullying” included middle and upper school administrators and deans. UCLA Professor of Developmental Psychology Jaana Juvonen made a presentation to deans, chaplains, school psychologists and athletic leaders Jan. 21.  She presented research on bullying, answered questions from the deans and offered her advice on the school’s response to bullying.

“She listed and categorized ways to handle bullying and when people were throwing out ‘what ifs’ it was much more hypothetical than specific cases,” upper school dean Mike Bird said. “She made us think more about subtle instances of [bullying] and ways it gets insidious, but largely it wasn’t eye-opening. It was confirming what we already know.”

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