LEWISTOWN - "Kids will be kids," but when it comes to aggressive behavior, local school officials say there is a no-tolerance policy.
Teasing, harassing, intimidating, damaging personal property, intentionally excluding peers and placing students in reasonable fear or harm are all classified as bullying under the Mifflin and Juniata county school districts' prevention policies.
According to the 2009 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 28 percent of students reported that they experienced bullying at school during the 2008-2009 school year, the last time the study was conducted. However, adults were only notified in about 1/3 of incidents that happened at school, the report states.
"All incidents of bullying are investigated and taken seriously," said Aaron Bennett, principal of Tuscarora Junior High School.
But first, they must be reported.
Both districts have programs in place to encourage communication between students, parents and administration.
At the beginning of the school year, Bennett said Juniata County elementary schools and TJHS hold kickoff events to make students aware of the anti-bullying program in the schools. He said the schools have positive behavior programs in place to recognize students for good behavior.
Bennett said there are bully boxes located at TJHS that allow students to anonymously report bullying incidents.
"Juniata and East Juniata High Schools are both working on implementing elements of the anti-bullying program, along with peer mediation programs, in their schools," he said, adding that class meetings are held to discuss bullying issues.
Steven J. Schaaf, MCSD coordinator of federal programs and elementary education programs, said Mifflin County secondary schools hold assemblies to inform students of the anti-bullying policy and reporting procedures. Classroom discussions address the issue on the elementary level, he said.
Additional trainings and assemblies are provided by the school resource officer and periodically through programs sponsored by the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office, he said.
"Bullying is taken very seriously in our schools," Bennett said. "We try to empower bystanders to stand up and help out the student that is being bullied."
According to the Mifflin County School District Elementary Education handbook, students are encouraged to report bullying or cyberbullying - bullying occurring online - to district employees who will notify building principals. Consequences for aggressors may include counseling, a parental conference, detention, suspension, expulsion, loss of school privileges or exclusion from school-sponsored activities, according to the handbook.
Even with prevention programs in place, the School Crime Supplement states those who are bullied may not ask for help. They may feel helpless or embarrassed by the threat or fear backlash if adults get involved.
An article called "How to Talk About Bullying" at www.stopbullying.gov encourages parents to keep the lines of communication open with their students. Sometimes spending a few minutes talking with children about their day can reassure kids that they can come to their parents with problems, the website states.
Parents also can recognize warning signs that their child is affected by bullying - either being bullied or bullying someone, the site states.
Unexplainable injuries, lost or destroyed personal items, frequent illness, changes in eating or sleeping habits or loss of interest in school or schoolwork may point to a bullying problem.
Likewise, kids who are bullying others may have a tendency to have unexplained extra money or personal belongings, engage in arguments or fights, are increasingly aggressive or worry about their reputation or popularity, according to the website.
Bennett said there also are risk factors associated with bullying. He said bullied students may be children with lower self-esteem, boys who are physically weaker than their peers or girls who are physically more mature than their peers.
Aggressors tend to have quick tempers, show little empathy toward others and may be physically stronger than their peers, he said.
"Mifflin County School District does encourage parents to discuss bullying with their children and to encourage reporting when occurrences are observed," Schaaf said.
He said the district recommends that parents visit www.stopbullying.org for more information about who is at risk, recognizing the warning signs of bullying and how to talk to kids about it. The website also addresses cyberbullying, which Bennett said has become a major concern as students spend more time online.