North Hills Middle School site of Attorney General’s anti-bullying tour | TribLIVE.com
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North Hills Middle School site of Attorney General’s anti-bullying tour

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Laurie Rees | For the Tribune-Review
State Attorney General Josh Shapiro and panelists, from left, Seamus Connolly from North Hills High School, Anthony Barbarino from Northgate Senior High School, and Ruby Sevick from Quaker Valley High School, lead a discussion in front of 60 student leaders during an anti-bullying/cyberbullying forum at North Hills Middle School.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro held an hour-long forum at North Hills Middle School on Feb. 14 as part of his new state-wide anti-bullying listening tour. Throughout the coming year, he will visit five different schools across the Commonwealth to hear about students’ experiences with bullying and listen to their ideas on how to curb it.

This was his second stop on the tour, and his only visit to southwestern Pa.

Shapiro emphasized that he sees bullying and cyber-bullying as critically important issues.

Studies indicate that nearly one-quarter of all students, on average, report being bullied at school. Victims can experience depression, anxiety, feelings of isolation, poor academic achievement, changes in sleep or appetite, and an increased risk of suicide, which is the third leading cause of death in people 15 to 24 years old.

“I believe we need to do a better job of listening and understanding what’s really happening in our schools and how we can best address it,” Shapiro said.

His recent forum at North Hills School District featured a three-member panel of seniors from North Hills, Northgate, and Quaker Valley High school districts, along with 20 student leaders from each of the three districts. Shapiro asked questions about bullying and cyberbullying at each school, and posed various scenarios. The students responded in an open discussion and debated over possible deterrents and solutions.

The objective was for students to take the ideas and findings from the forum back to their respective schools for a discussion with administrators, faculty and students. The ultimate goal is to reduce the incidence of bullying, and, ultimately, to eliminate its escalation into something catastrophic, like another school shooting.

“We’ve got to get serious about our gun laws and the students’ right not to get shot in school,” Shapiro said. “We’ve told kids to speak out when they see something that’s not right, yet we never gave them a way to do it,”

The students admitted it is not easy to report incidences of bullying.

“Kids are afraid to report it because of the repercussions and backlash they get from the bully and other kids,” said North Hills senior Evelyn Osmond.

Shapiro suggested using the first-ever, state-wide anonymous tip line, Safe2Say Something, which was launched on Jan. 14, 2019 to allow students and adults to report warning signs of violence before it is too late.

“We received 5,000 tips in the first month,” Shapiro said.

“But kids don’t always know the exact point when a situation becomes serious enough to report,” said panelist Seamus Connolly of North Hills High School. “Sometimes we’re afraid we might be blowing a situation out of proportion.”

Students cited recent examples of classmates using their cell phones to record fist fights at school.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” reported one student. “Someone posts a negative comment on social media which leads to a physical fight. Kids tape the fight on their cell phones and post it online, which leads to more negative social media posts.”

“They do it just to get 1,000 ‘likes.’ They don’t care if they get suspended over it,” added another student.

Shapiro warned the students about the content they choose to post online.

“When colleges and employers select which students to admit or which people to hire, they often conduct background checks, and that includes checking your social posts,” he said. “You may delete stuff, but it never really goes away. We can find it.”

Shapiro’s office will collect all the ideas and feedback gathered during the tour and release a report of its findings later this year.

“The forum was very beneficial,” said Quaker Valley High School senior Nicholas Tusick, 18. “It made me re-think sharing videos and gave me lots of ideas to take back to my school.”

Shapiro agreed. Events like this are his favorite.

“To see students and have them be honest and open, and to see the good they’re doing inspires me,” he said. “I can’t see this by sitting behind my desk in Harrisburg.”

Categories: Local | North Hills
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