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Bullying Prevention Beyond the Classroom

Union-sponsored training empowers education support professionals to intervene and advocate for bullied students.

Michael Garcia and Chris Godfrey stand at the front of a small classroom packed full of adults squeezed into high school students' wooden desks. Garcia, the former president of the Tooele Education Support Professionals Association (TESPA) co-leads a discussion on education support professionals (ESPs) and student bullying prevention. "What do you think the roles are for ESPs with their students?" asks Godfrey. She stands poised with a blue marker in front of a large flip-chart. One by one, the paraeducators, custodians, office workers, food service staff, and bus drivers call out their answer: Protector, Observer, Supporter, Listener, Confidante, Advocate.

Exactly one year before, the majority of today’s 361 attendees attended a suicide and bullying prevention training coordinated and sponsored by TESPA and the Utah School Employees’ Association (USEA) – NEA’s only all-ESP state affiliate. It was such a success, Superintendent Scott Rogers asked TESPA and USEA to present another full-day advanced training. He kept hearing stories about how the first training helped the district’s classified school professionals – Utah’s equivalent of ESPs—understand how their interactions with students can help change a life. TESPA/USEA delivered the second training at Grantsville High School on October 30.  

97 percent of ESPs surveyed feel responsibility for student/school safety, yet only 51 percent reported receiving actual training around student bullying and suicide prevention.

A 2012 survey of education support professionals (PDF) by the National Education Association states that ESPs frequently observe bullying, receive reports about bullying from students, and recognize that bullying is a problem in schools and in school-related areas. Ninety-seven percent of those surveyed feel a responsibility or feel directly involved in school/student safety. ESPs, however, report that they have not received training in anti-bullying strategies even though bullying prevention is an important part of their job.

"Training is important for every school employee, regardless of job. The more adults we have trained in bullying/suicide prevention, the more students' hearts we can reach so we can all protect our kids," says Rogers. He understands the need for all adults in a school to be trained, in light of sobering statistics that two youth (ages 10-17) are treated for suicide attempts every day in Utah.

Rogers considers TESPA’s leaders part of the team and is proud of the work he has done with TESPA to bring relevant training to Tooele’s classified staff. “We're not going to let politics and differences get in the way of doing what's right for our kids and employees."

Current TESPA President Sandi Thomas is also proud of that relationship. "Dr. Rogers understands and values the roles of all of his employees, which is necessary if we are truly going to meet the needs of the whole student."

The advanced training included instruction on how to identify bullying, when to intervene, how to advocate for bullied students, and how to work together with the community for student well-being.

Utah suicide prevention specialist and author Dr. Greg Hudnall explained and defined bullying and discussed how to help a student considering suicide. Suzie Gannett, a bullying prevention specialist and trainer for NEA, discussed the impact of bullying. She presented NEA's Bully Free: It Starts with Me program, which provides resources to educators on how to identify, intervene, and advocate for students that are being bullied. During the afternoon, attendees received QPR Suicide Prevention (Question, Persuade, Refer) training, and had small-group discussions around how the trainings help impact their work with students. Nearly all in attendance signed NEA's Bully Free Pledge and agreed to stand up for bullied students.

Leslie Turner is a preschool paraeducator at Rose Springs Elementary. She says the trainings helped her be more aware of bullying now that she knows what behavior to look for. “If I see kids goofing around in the hallway, I will ask myself, ‘is this bullying behavior or not?’ I feel like I can better answer that question now in order to help my students.”

East Elementary paraeducator Tamra Wiker said the trainings helped her with her students and her own children, as well. After last year’s training, “I had a dialogue with my kids and they've been willing to open up to me now they know that I will listen and that I can guide them to the right resources. I know how to handle the situation.”

Many of the stories shared throughout the day recount when an ESP saw a student in crisis and offered to walk him or her to the counselor’s office or just lent an ear. One bus driver said that his high school has had several students die by suicide in recent years. “I don’t ever want to look back and think, ‘what if someone had just noticed?’” and talked to a student before he or she took their own life.

Tim Bell is a UniServ Director for USEA and was formerly head custodian at Roy Junior High in Roy, Utah. Bell knows that in many situations, ESPs are the one caring adult in a student’s life outside the home. “Kids need to know they have someone to talk to. Sometimes kids will talk to us about things they don’t feel comfortable talking to others about because we are consistent in their lives. Kids want to feel an emotional attachment to something and someone.”

“It's time to recognize the relationships and interactions ESPs have in and around schools with our students,” says USEA President Jerad Reay. “Getting the training and resources ESPs need to intervene and advocate for bullied students benefits the entire community. USEA is committed to doing just that for its members and their students.”

Take the Pledge:

Take the pledge to change school climate and let’s make our schools Bully Free!


NEA's Education Support Professionals: Meeting the Needs of the Whole Student