If you know someone who has been bullied or you’re curious about how to identity this abusive behavior, including cyber bullying, and what types of strategies may help, join the conversation at the DeForest Public Library, August 20, 6.p.m. for a special presentation.

Beverly Davis, author, chaplain, and nationally-known expert on anti-bullying awareness will team up with Kerry Johnson, a licensed school counselor at Deforest High School to talk about reducing bullying behavior, and why that’s important for the entire community.

Davis says you can make life brighter for everyone around you as well as yourself if you choose to be kind before lashing out at others. She knows first-hand that it can be a life-long struggle learning to believe in yourself after being bullied as a child. She was bullied throughout childhood and is still impacted by the pain.

Davis holds a Masters of Divinity degree from McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago and is also a Certified Dementia Practitioner (NCCDP). She endured bullying by getting involved in sports, volleyball, softball, and table tennis. “It kept me going and away from my own school,” she says.

When Davis looks at a photo of her 8 year-old self, a quiet, shy girl in a plaid skirt and carrying a lunch box, she wonders what it was about that girl that made her appear vulnerable to schoolyard bullies.

Regardless of the ‘why’ did this happen, ongoing feelings of being marginalized have stayed with her all her life.

What exactly is bullying? It’s often describes as unwanted, aggressive behavior usually targeting young children and teens.

Young people who have been bullied may suffer from life-long consequences of confidence, self-esteem, loneliness and a pervasive feeling of being unwanted or unloved.

Kids who are bullied may withdraw from activities and show changes in behavior. They may go from being talkative to quiet and have fluctuations in grades and attentiveness at school.

Bullied or Instigator?

It can be challenging being a student in many different ways. But middle school can be especially difficult for kids in this age group.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 49 percent of children in grades four to 12 reported being bullied by other students at least once a month, and 31 percent of children reported being the ones who bullied.

Those numbers suggest that a child in this age group may be a target of bullying or the instigator.

While more male students may be physically bullied compared to females (6 percent versus 4 percent), according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, cyberbullying affects both girls and boys.

A 2018 Pew survey found that 59 percent of U.S. teens experienced some form of abusive online behavior which is more common outside of school.

Bullying Led to Writing Books

When Davis was completing a Clinical Pastoral Education residency at Aspirus Wausau Hospital, she had a dream which became her first book, Great Gray, Exceeding NO Expectations.” Her books are available at bevdavisauthor.com

“In a dream I saw the idea for writing a book series for children of all ages about the power of believing in yourself. In my first book, Great Gray, the elephants in India stopped bullying Gray when he saved their village. He became the local hero despite the fact that one of his ears looked much different than the other elephants,” she said.

Her first book and its sequel honor the differences in all of us, shown through the lives of that little elephant named ‘Gray’ and the friends he made as he becomes ‘Great.’”

This is a topic Davis knows well, personally, and professionally as a presenter and from talking with children in schools.

She often speaks to grandparents and parents, as well as children – her books are stories that are meant to showcase the best in all of us no matter how different we may be. The books will be available for sale at the library event.

Davis is often asked what it is about Gray that speaks to her. “I identify with Great Gray, she said, “His experiences are my own. He is me.”

Davis says, “Think before you act. It’s vitally important to build bridges not blockades with those who are targets of your emotions.”

Many schools including the DeForest schools have bullying prevention programs in place to help curtail harmful behaviors.

Anti-Bullying Steps in Public Schools

For over 20 years, Kerry Johnson, licensed school counselor has worked in education and nonprofit organizations helping students and families. She has implemented and facilitated various programs to teach students healthy social, emotional skills that address bullying behaviors and other mental health concerns

She says, “In DeForest our data shows reports of bullying in decline. There are various ways we address bullying in our schools. We have developed an opportunity for Social Emotional Learning in all grade levels in our district.”

At the library presentation she will talk about why reducing bullying is important for the entire community and where to access Information and resources to help increase understanding, empathy, and kindness.

Important anti-bullying steps are underway in the community. In the elementary schools Johnson says all students will receive evidenced-based curriculum through a program called Second Step.

“The Second Step program is a comprehensive school curriculum that integrates social, emotional learning, bullying prevention and protective behaviors. The high school has an advisory period that provides lessons aligned with the three Wisconsin SEL domains: self-concept, social competence and emotional development.”

She explains these lessons help students develop and promote healthy behaviors and mindsets each week throughout the school year. “This year, the middle school has also developed an advisory period for the same purpose.”

Not everything about bullying is well understood. Johnson says an important misconception is that bullying is only the responsibility of the school.

Conversely, she says it has to be addressed at home and in the community.

“We have to all work together to help our kids with bullying and other behaviors. There is also a significant, national movement toward improving the social, emotional health of our kids and families. This movement will help schools and communities increase awareness and understanding of bullying and the strategies to reduce it.”

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