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Bullying dissected by panelists

(Kara Silva (Kane County Chronicle))
(Left to right) Dr. Robert Wallace, a nationally-syndicated columnist, and Stella Katsoudas, a Chicago-area rock musician who has spoken out about bullying, serve as panel members at the bullying forum Oct. 3 at Kaneland High School in Maple Park. The Kane County Chronicle — in conjunction with its sister paper, the Daily Chronicle, and Kaneland School District 302 — hosted the bullying forum. Other panelists included Erika Schlichter, Kaneland director of educational services; Pat Perez, sheriff of Kane County; Andrea Monroe, associate director at the Dekalb County Youth Service Bureau; and Kyle Clausen, a graduate of Kaneland High School who has fought against bullying.

MAPLE PARK – Communities came together Wednesday night to discuss ways on how to eliminate the specter of bullying.

A panel of anti-bullying experts and advocates sounded off on the many issues related to bullying in Kaneland High School’s auditorium.

Panelists brought their own set of experiences and perspectives on bullying. Kyle Clausen, a graduate of Kaneland, became an anti-bullying advocate after his own experiences.

“I kind of get fed up with it and went to middle school and made my stand,” Clausen said.

Clausen gives presentations about his experiences to middle school audiences.

For others, it’s a professional charge. Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez described the inmates of his jail as being former bullies who weren’t stood up to and helped when they needed it.

Dr. Robert Wallace, a former educator who writes a national column about teenagers and education, said school administrators have to be the point people.

“Once you are at the top of the heap,” Wallace said, “it is your responsibility, to the best of your ability, to ensure that every student under your wing gets the best possible education we can grant.”

But adult intervention can go only so far.

“When the adults are talking or teachers are talking, it’s white noise,” Perez said. “If it comes from a peer, it carries a higher level of impact.”

That was something Donna Hill, a paraeducator with Sycamore Middle School, took away from the forum. She said there might be some programs available to decrease “the white noise we adults can make.”

“It motivates me to carry on that thought of having some sort of program,” Hill said. “We have a lot of different programs and clubs across the nation, but I think this would be one that would be relatively easy to implement and set the foundations for kids today.”

A number of the panelists questioned the wisdom of having a zero-tolerance policy against bullying. Erika Schlichter, the director of educational services for grades 6-12 at Kaneland School District 302, said some policies force school officials to respond to very minor incidents with a disproportionate amount of punishment.

Wallace advocated a victim defending himself with violence if the bullying situation warranted it, even if they are at school.

“Most times, the psychological damage is much worse than the physical damage,” Wallace said.

Perez expressed dismay at the victim’s position, noting they are punished twice in a sense for defending themselves even if they are completely justified in their actions.

Allowing bullying to continue can have consequences for both the violator and the victim. Perez said the consequences for bullying become very severe when it concerns adults. An adult bully could be arrested for disorderly conduct or battery if he attacks the victim.

But bullying can push some victims to suicide. Stella Katsoudas, a musician and anti-bullying advocate on the panel, said she almost threw herself out of one of her school’s fourth story windows when her dress got caught and she became stuck.

“I think isolation is the biggest indicator,” Katsoudas said. “Toward the end, I was very isolated. I didn’t leave my room. I was too scared to go to school. Too depressed to go to school.”

Perez said bullies look for easy targets, and they back off when confronted strongly.

“A bully does what they do because they can get away with it,” Perez said, adding that bullies thrive on the illusion of a threat. “The worse thing for a bully is to have to back it up.”

The forum was sponsored by the DeKalb Daily Chronicle, the Kane County Chronicle and Kaneland School District.

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