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School Staffers "Step Up" to Support Students

PHOTO: Paul Figueroa is a former police officer sharing his strategies for dealing with bullying with teachers and school support staff this weekend in Tacoma. Photo courtesy of Figueroa.
PHOTO: Paul Figueroa is a former police officer sharing his strategies for dealing with bullying with teachers and school support staff this weekend in Tacoma. Photo courtesy of Figueroa.
March 15, 2013

TACOMA, Wash. – Recognizing and preventing bullying is a major topic at a weekend workshop in Tacoma called "Step Up to a Better You" for school staff members from around the state.

They'll hear from a former police officer whose experience with gang members helped him formulate methods to redirect angry youth – both the bullies and their targets.

Paul Figueroa says most adults' tendency is to rush in and stop an incident by yelling or grabbing one person or the other – when there's a better way to go about it.

"That has a tendency to put you in between the two people,” he says. “And that can be dangerous. It's more about learning how to separate them or de-escalate the participants so things smooth out. If you can move to the side and get the eye contact fully on you, as opposed to the other participant, that works out well."

Figueroa calls his approach, and his company, Peace Enforcement. He says the methods work for bullying in the workplace as well as with children.

He adds teachers, bus drivers and others in regular contact with children often suspect that a child is being bullied but haven't actually witnessed it and so, they don't say anything. He says don't hesitate to ask if everything's OK, particularly if a change in a child's mood or behavior is noticeable.

"Oftentimes, there's low self-esteem or some negative beliefs that are happening,” he says. “So, the idea is to support them to remember who they really are – and to not take the bully's behavior personally, even though it's a personal attack, so to speak, on them."

The "Step Up" conference on Saturday also covers better nutrition for children and handling workplace stress. It is co-sponsored by Tacoma Public Schools and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Washington.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA