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Bullying top concern for safety commission

Posted: March 1, 2013 5:18 p.m.
Updated: March 4, 2013 5:00 a.m.

After analyzing a variety of student survey responses related to community safety, the Kershaw County Safe Communities Commission concluded Thursday that bullying will be one of the group’s first areas of concentration. Commission Chairman Kevin Rhodes indicated the group’s efforts are moving in a positive direction after reviewing student feedback generated from the county’s Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) grant.

“This is exactly what this group is supposed to be doing. This is a very good thing to have come across,” Rhodes said referring to establishing specific goals.

During Thursday’s meeting, Rhodes, who also administers the SS/HS grant, presented commission members with data culled from previously distributed surveys to Kershaw County School District (KCSD) middle and high school students. The surveys, which have been used for several years, help to analyze school environments when it comes to safety. The surveys asked a number of questions involving such topics as bullying, violence, and overall community safety.

Camden Police Chief Joe Floyd said while bullying has always been an issue, it’s been greatly amplified in recent years due to the growth of technology and social media.

“This is nothing new. It’s been around for a long, long time, but they have better means to bully now with technology. That’s given them an advantage that they can bully like never before,” Floyd said.

Richard Guess, director of the Santee-Wateree Department of Mental Health, broke down the subject matter of most bullying, explaining it’s usually any attribute that “separates you from the herd.”

“It can be anything from physical characteristics to sexual orientation to clothes that you wear or clothes you don’t wear to academics,” Guess said.

Guess particularly noted the effectiveness of peer mediation in schools, but explained such programs have been decreasing in volume.

“We need to find out more about who kids reach out to,” he said. “Twenty years ago we were doing peer counseling groups in the school. We were training kids on how to pick up on signs their peers were not doing well.”

He noted that most statistics show peer mediation programs are actually quite effective.

“Somehow we have gotten away from that, but I think it was significant,” he said.

Floyd said the common denominator in identifying potential threats from certain students seems to always be other students at the school.

“Other students can see it coming before anybody else,” Floyd said.

S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice Associate Deputy Director Brett MacGargle explained that many of the at-risk kids he works with have problems communicating with adults.

“Kids would rather talk to kids about issues than adults, especially in our population because most have been abused by adults -- there’s really not trust there,” MacGargle said.

After the discussion, Rhodes expressed an interest in recommending the establishment of a peer mediation program at local schools.

Camden City Councilwoman Alfred Mae Drakeford recommended that any peer mediation group should not just involve the “upper crust” of students, but should really involve those students who would benefit most from such a program.

Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews said it might also be appropriate to incorporate some type of mechanism to report bullying that would give students anonymity.

“I think a lot of these kids feel like the situation would get worse if they go talk to a teacher. The teacher goes and yanks the kid out and says ‘quit bullying so-and-so,’” Matthews said. “Maybe there needs to be some thought as to a mechanism where kids can go and somehow talk to a person without there being an immediate jump on the kid. Something has to be done better.”

County Councilman Sammie Tucker Jr. also said the group should consider incorporating additional voices as part of the commission, particularly representation from the faith-based community and local recreational officials. He said county council is set to consider the expansion of the board to 20 members during its March 12 meeting. Tucker noted that if approved by council, the commission would actually be tasked with selecting the new members.

The commission plans to meet again on March 27 to continue the discussion of peer mediation programs and possible recommendations to county council.

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