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Agencies help parents fight bullying behavior

<i>Bill Kirk photo</i> Adam Johnson and Aly Reuvers, fourth graders at Hillcrest Elementary School, show an anti-bullying poster. Copies of the poster will soon be displayed in all of the school's classrooms.

The battle against bullying behavior among youths is being reinforced by a countywide effort now being brought to River Falls and Ellsworth.

As part of its "Surviving and Thriving Parent Workshop" series, the Partnership for Family Teaming in Pierce County will present sessions on bullying this month. The series has already been held in River Falls, where the latest one on this topic is scheduled for Rocky Branch Elementary School on Tuesday, Jan. 25, from 6:30-8 p.m.

"We decided to try Ellsworth," said Jessica Wiskow, an organizer and guidance counselor at Hillcrest Elementary School, explaining Hillcrest will hosted the local version Jan. 18 starting with a dinner.

"We thought parents who pick up their children at the school would appreciate that rather than going home to eat and having to come back," Wiskow said.

Funds from a previously obtained grant will be used to purchase the pre-made food, she said. Reservations for the Rocky Branch event can be made by contacting Wiskow at 715-273-3912 or

The workshop will address people in the roles of bullying behavior ("we don't call them bullies because it's not meant to be a personal attack," the counselor said), the target (not the "victim," as that could promote someone feeling victimized) and the bystander, which Wiskow believes is the most important. It will discuss how to recognize the behavior and some things everyone can do about it.

"Empathy is probably the biggest prevention measure," she said, indicating those who are empathetic are concerned with others' feelings.

The undesirable behavior isn't limited to a certain age group, she said, and, in fact, high school students are welcome to attend the sessions without their parents. Being a parent isn't a requirement for attendance, as the entire community is encouraged to participate. While cyber bullying has escalated with increased computer usage, though not as common at the elementary level, it will be touched on at the workshop, yet a separate gathering later featuring an expert speaker on the cyber kind is envisioned.

Recently, the Ellsworth School District updated its policy on bullying behavior in response to expectations from the state, Wiskow said. A copy she shared with the Herald states: "...Bullying toward a student, whether by other students, staff or third parties is strictly prohibited and will not be tolerated. This prohibition includes physical, verbal and psychological abuse. The board will not tolerate any gestures, comments, threats or actions which cause or threaten to cause bodily harm or personal degradation..."

It further states: "...Bullying is deliberate or intentional behavior using word or actions intended to cause fear, intimidation or harm. Bullying may be a repeated behavior and involves an imbalance of power. Furthermore, it may be serious enough to negatively impact a student's educational, physical or emotional well-being. The behavior may be motivated by an actual or perceived distinguishing characteristic, such as, but not limited to: Age, national origin, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical attributes, physical or mental ability or disability, and social, economic or family status; however, this type of bullying behavior need not be based on any of the legally protected characteristics. It includes, but is not necessarily limited to, such behaviors as stalking, cyber bullying, intimidating, menacing, coercing, name-calling, taunting, making threats and hazing."

Lori Zierl, Pierce County UW-Extension Family Living educator, will be the presenter at the sessions. A promotional piece about the event cites a statistic indicating 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack by other students. To reduce the behavior, event organizers call for a school-wide commitment to bullying prevention, and an increase in parent and teacher awareness.

The workshop aims to educate parents on how to watch for bullying behavior happening to or around their children, how to eliminate their children from becoming victims, how it's impacting their children's health, development and school performance, and what can be done about it.

The Partnership for Family Teaming in the county consists of individuals from the Pierce County Coordinated Services Team (CST)/Wraparound Coordinating Council and the Community Response Advisory Group, said Wiskow, who's been a member of the former for about five years. The wraparound process is based on family and community values, is unconditional in its commitment to creatively address needs and supports community-based options. Each child and family-centered team develops an individualized plan, incorporating the strengths of the child, family and team members to work toward identified goals.

The Community Response Program works to ensure children are safe by strengthening their families. Outreach staffers work alongside the families to help them achieve the goals they have identified and will advocate for them.

Represented agencies on the advisory group are: Pierce County Human Services, Ellsworth School District, Turningpoint for Victims of Domestic Violence, Inc., River Falls School District, Family Resource Center of St. Croix Valley, UW-Extension Office, Marriage and Family Health Services--Hudson Mikan, Pierce County Public Health, Positive Alternatives, Inc.--River Falls, Northwest Journey Program--River Falls and Plum City School District.

Wiskow said area computer users are being surveyed online about future topics for the workshop series. An example is teaching parents about technology using a new curriculum Zierl is helping to develop.

Bill Kirk

Bill Kirk was editor of the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth, from 1988 to February, 2015 and is now on staff as a reporter. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He previously worked in the media distribution department at the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus and is past editor of The Tri-County News in Osseo, Wisconsin.

(715) 273-4334