More than 75 people attended the bullying prevention town hall sponsored by the Boonville R-1 School District’s Bullying Prevention Committee, which featured seven local panelists in the auditorium of LSE Middle School on Tuesday, Feb. 27.
“This is the first step and we need to keep taking steps like this forward” said Boonville School District Assistant Superintendent Sarah Marriott of the town hall forum.
The preliminary signs, causes and preventative methods of bullying were discussed by the panelists in response to questions submitted in writing by the audience throughout the night. Cyberbullying and its expansive means of communication and impacts was a recurring concern as well.
The audience of the open forum was mixed with Boonville R-1 student families, administrators and the general public. The forum was introduced by Marriott then moderated by former district school board member David Wrenn. The panel of experts consisted of: Amy Bledsoe of the Missouri School Board Association Center for Education Safety, Jeremy Collyott of the Cooper County Juvenile Office, Megan Lane of KRCG News, Taylor Petras of KMIZ News, Dr. Chad Rose of the University of Missouri, Dr. Garima Singh of MU Health Care and Boonville City Attorney Brad Wooldridge.
Over the course of 90 minutes, the panel responded to 20 questions both prompted and from those in attendance. Dr. Rose and Dr. Singh began the open session by defining bullying and the physical and behavior characteristics displayed of bullied youth. Dr. Singh explained that male and female youth are capable of bullying behavior with males displaying more physical tendencies and females participating in an emotional or relational aspect.
“Not only do you watch for behavioral changes, you also watch who your son or daughter is associating with,” explained Dr. Rose of how adults should monitor if they’re child is being bully or participating in bullying, “Ask those probing questions of what they are doing.”
Though there are legal standards by the state toward schools preventing bullying behaviors, bully sometimes transcends the school bell by crossing into the community. Collyott and Wooldridge elaborated that when bullying occurs in a community setting with heightened intensity, it may enter the criminal realm. The two affirmed that any bullying occuring on school grounds or at school athletic facilities should be directed to the school itself where the claim can be investigated and potentially passed to the Cooper County Juvenile Office.
In regard to cyberbullying, Lane and Petras explained from a media standpoint that social media has created a new, anonymous and non-stop potential source for bullying behaviors and victims. Collyott confirmed that a larger number conflicts seen and resolved in the Cooper County Juvenile Office were spurred by conflicts beginning on social media.
Adults are encouraged to intervene and report instances of bullying when the actions carry into public and their attention. Though speaking directly to the parents of bullies is encouraged, authorities should be notified as well. The panel agreed that communication with the bully, the victim and authorities whether school or law enforcement is the most direct way to prevent and resolve bullying.
“I always tell parents ‘When a kid is coming to you and telling you I’m being bullied’ first of all, thank your child for being so honest and coming to you,” elaborated Dr. Singh.
Lane added that KRCG TV participates in Missouri’s “Stop Bullying Mid-Mo” initiative by sharing personal stories of bullying victims as well as reports regarding the impact of bullying locally. Bledsoe added further detailing the specific programs provided to counteract harmful actions. Amongst programs such as Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports or PBIS and character education, Youth Mental Health First Aid is one open to the community.
The panel agreed that communicating and instilling social skills into youth while creating a  community climate encouraging both is effective in preventing bullying and decreasing victims. In the past, bullying prevention was largely endorsed to youth via punitive means. Dr. Rose his student’s work at the University of Missouri Education Bullying Prevention Lab aims to work with students and educators in a more progressive and effective manner.   
“We don’t go into schools and tell kids bullying is bad. We teach them the skills to prevent bullying behaviors,” stated Rose to the audience.
Parents are encouraged to seek resources from organizations like the MU ED Bullying Prevention Lab, the Boonville school district, the Stop Bullying Mid-Mo and PBIS.