Real Problems Under Cloaks of Success, or How Polk Elementary Handles Bullying

I attended Gladys Polk Elementary in Richwood, Texas, from August 1992 to May 1999. It was a huge part of my early life (and some bad memories, discussed here), and I continue to keep track of what is going on at Polk–thanks to the Internet.

This past December, I read through its 2016-2017 Campus Improvement Planned (2017-2018 version is here) and noticed a few problems and a few interesting items. This report outlines its successes, challenges, and goals.

Reading through the 2016-2017 version, I was struck by the following statement: 

We have had only one bullying report that proved to be bullying this year.

I immediately remembered a meeting at UH about sexual harassment on campus. In this meeting, the person talking with us (a group of professors in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program) explained that she gets concerned when numbers are too low because that means people are not reporting sexual harassment/sexual assault.

The same goes with bullying. With an enrollment of around 500 students–ranging from people in early childhood to fourth grade–bullying is certainly happening every day, in every room. This is common sense. While times have changed and my experience is certainly not necessarily an indicator of all experience, I remember being bullied daily at Polk by other students and by teachers.

Claiming there was only one (real) case of bullying is to make a mockery of bullying. It gives bullies–student and teacher bullies–a “get out of jail” card, and it tells people bullied–student and teacher victims–that no one is listening.

While it might seem like a good thing, Polk’s “one occurrence” of bullying is absolutely alarming. What is it trying to hide? Or did it adopted some kind of artificial, narrow definition of “bullying”?

And further alarming, as I discovered while writing this article, is that Polk’s Campus Improvement Plan has this exact same statement about bullying in both its 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 reports. Sadly, they really don’t take bullying seriously.

Both reports also assert:

100% of students and staff expressed in the survey that they feel safe at school and that they feel valued and supported at school

Again, this result must be questioned. What kind of questions were asked in this survery? How were they framed? This survey is clearly hiding problems because there is no way every student feels safe, valued, and supported at Polk, even if they don’t yet have the agency or voice to see it. 

On the note of interesting, students now recite Polk’s mission statement each day:

The mission of Polk Elementary is to ensure all students learn at high levels and are future ready.

Mission statements are typically interesting, but this statement strikes me: only students are supposed to learn? Why doesn’t it say “to ensure all members of the community learn”? And it should be “future-ready.”

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda

Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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18 replies

  1. If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. 100% anything reported is always questionable.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This post will allow me to raise questions when I see these types of statistics in future text. I do not understand how they could possibly think its ok to post this. Makes me wonder where else are people being deceived.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. An elementary school with 500 students is way too big for such young kids. The size of the school should be determined by the ages of its students, not the most “efficient” way to handle a lot of kids in a district. Bullying occurs because the school is not staffed enough to catch it! So if it is not staffed enough, then they won’t see it, and thus won’t count it. Most schools in the US are not staffed enough.

    After all, look at the crisis in many states with teachers walking out. There will be more states where teachers are of being relegated to the #MeToo movement for this type of “invisible” sexual harassment–the one where a woman gets ignored because she is female. It applies to this situation because teaching K-12 is still considered a “female” profession. Similarly, it applies to the states who want to ban abortions as a solution to a problem they see as murdering babies. There are ways to reduce the number of abortions simply by providing solutions to the reasons why a woman seeks them. But that means LISTENING to women. So women get ignored, the problems leading to picking an abortion as a solution get ignored. And all because of the predominant culture says to ignore women.

    Now back to the size of the school. Pre-K kids have not been regularly a part of crowds of others of the same age. Not until they go to a Pre-K school with larger numbers of kids than that age can handle, or standing in line to see Santa Claus at a packed mall. Just watch them in a larger kid-number context. Most are overwhelmed by more than about 10. Now that can be a class size, but in a larger school, in between classes or on the playground, the context changes to one of too many other kids, especially if at an elementary school.

    Kids in kindergarten can probably handle a class size of about 15. Maybe even close to 20. But not at an elementary school of more than 30 kids in a playground.

    First graders can handle a bit higher, but still nowhere near 500.

    The principle is one of anonymity. Bullying occurs in anonymity. A kid should not be in a situation where no more than about 1 or 2 other kids are anonymous to them. That doesn’t mean friends, but recognizing them as belonging in that school with them. Little kids may be able to recognize those in this group by the end of the school year, but that group needs to be small enough for a kid to do this. Can’t be done with 500 kids. Not even in High School. One year should be the limit for recognition ability.

    To make up for the inability of little kids to do this with the school size at hand, there has to be adult supervision at all times. No teacher can supervise a gaggle of kids numbering more than 30 at a time and even begin to notice bullying soon enough to prevent trauma. So an enrollment of 500 kids needs to have at least 166 adults. Did your school have a staff of at least 166 adults, especially when kids were all on the playground or in an auditorium? I strongly suspect not.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This blog was quite alarming, as much as interesting, because I went to a similar type of school district. Friendswood High School, priding itself as the reclaimed, as well as false, “#1 High School in Texas”, similarly brushed negatives under the rug in order to retain the stellar reputation it pridefully portrayed.

    One has to wonder just to what extent a school district will go to in order to be seen as reputable and in a positive light. With an extremely high graduation rate in comparison to nearby schools, as well as many claims to how welcoming this school was, you would think this was the “#1 High School in Texas”. As a student that went there for all four years and still experienced a pleasant experience on my personal level, even I can serve as a disclaimer. As an dominantly white and privileged school, the treatment of students treating students based on race and class was more than evident. The minority and less privileged students were often treated differently inside and outside of the classroom. However, even if they did not attend class for most of the semester, they were still passed and walked at graduation. This was done so to keep the statistics positive and reputation that this school has apparently worked so very hard for.

    It is unfortunate that many of us know and see the injustices within our education system because I am sure that there are many good (to it’s purest definition) schools out there. Just like propaganda and media, however, there will always be those with corrupt agendas, whether they are aware of it or not. Regardless, negligence has never been a viable excuse.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Bullying is not ok in the community today. I was alarmed this blog that there was only one case of bullying in the entire school year from an elementary school. Usually, bullying from what I hear only comes from students with bad backgrounds, family issues, or just do it because it is fun. Personally, I have never experienced being bullied by my classmates or bullying other because I was never taught to be such a person to anybody. I was raised to know better and how to be respectful to others. In order to get respect is to give respect but that is not the cas in this blog. The fact that not only students were bullies but the teachers were bullies also? Are the teachers supposed to help you right? Make the students make great decisions right? Very sorry you were bullied in your younger years.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Way to point out a likely coverup. Let’s get this to the news channels and bring media attention to the truth behind the lies.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree that that their report seems sketchy and too good to be true. I feel as if the amount could be much higher, but nothing extreme. What if students aren’t aware they’re being bullied? Some elementary students may be a little to young to understand. They could misinterpret harsh words as “playing around”. Sometimes when I think about my past in grade school, I realize too late that I had been a victim or have targeted someone before because of peer pressure. It sucks to admit it, but none of us are perfect and have been on both sides at one point before. I mean regardless, bullying isn’t right and people should be more proactive in trying to prevent it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Bullying continues to affect lives of numerous children every year and it is just not right. It’s sad that the staff is not taking this issue more seriously.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I did not read of the previous comments because I want my post to be purely influenced from my thoughts and only my thoughts on the subject.
    I do not in any way condone any form of bullying, it is an actionthat can seriously hurt and traumatize children of any age. Personally, I was never bullied as a kid, only because I never let it happen. The moment anybody would try to come and pick on me I would put them in their place. I would never get violent or anything, but I would stand up for myself. When I was little I always believed that no one was better then me and that I was not that better then anyone else. We are all human.
    We cannot get rid of bullying no matter how hard we try. This may be an unpopular opinion but I think bullys help build character and shape kids to be better. Bullys in the classroom or bullys in the office will always be a constant. Bullys are bad , drowning is bad, both can be prevented. To prevent drowning one must learn to swim. To stop a bully you have to learn how to deal with one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • P.S.
      The correction of “future-ready” made me laugh!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with your comment Nicolas. Bullying is an issue that could not be easily taken care of thus teaching kids how to defend themselves (non-violently) is a excellent fix. Teaching kids to defend themselves is a skill that they must learn because, there will always be bullies and when if it does happen then they will be prepared for it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you, however I think the way to prevent bullying is to stop it at the source. I think that often, parents do not raise their children to realize what is and is not bullying, or, that bullying is something that is okay. I think it is a parents job to prevent their child from being the bully.
      On the other hand, I believe parents should also teach their children to defend themselves in any situation where they may be bullied.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I thought it was really interesting and brought up a great point when you compared low bullying statistics to low statistics of sexual assault. I agree how that when there are low numbers of bullying/assault/etc, when it is commonly known that these things occur more than they are reported, it does create a world where the perpetrators believe they can get away with more and that is scary and should be dealt with in a better way. One of the biggest problems, with both bullying and sexual assault, is that it is difficult for victims to come forward and report their situations because of victim shaming, reliving/having to deal with traumatic experiences, and that many times, these things are not taken as seriously as they should, so the harassers never get punished and the victims stay in fear that it could happen again. One way to solve this problem could be to educate people on how to report harassment/bullying and make sure that once the perpetrator is found guilty, they are punished and to not let their actions get swept under the rug.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I agree that low statistics may suggest that there are cases of bullying and sexual harassment not being reported, which would mislead people from the real amount of these violation happens. But, I am glad to see that at peast the schools admit that bullying and sexual harassment exists on education ground. Growing up in Vietnam, Vietnamese schools totally ignore the existence of these crimes to protect their reputation. At least, things go different in the US. Also, the main problem is that the victims’ side decide not to report. I understand that there is a mental wall, but each of us has to overcome in order to seek safety and justice.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. In my opinion, sometimes, people who were bullied or stucked in a sexual harassment issue are afraid of speaking up or sharing with anyone else because they scared of judgments from social. Maybe this can be a reason for low reports. I can see this from my family, my cousin was being bullied, and she did not tell anyone until the family found out. She said that she scared to speak up because she thought that was her fault for being weak.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. It definitely seems like something isn’t right.

    After attending the first film-produced screening of the original musical “Bully” at the University of Houston, a campus official participated in the Q&A that followed. She brought up how a lot of the bullying that takes place anywhere actually consists of very minor actions, or behaviors, of negativity towards others. I remember hearing her say something like “The slightest discredit of one’s abilities, or any minor behaviors that could target and push someone out from their peers, would be considered bullying.” So, given the school’s report on having only ONE incident, I agree with what Hoa has to say. I believe the reason to be that students are simply not speaking up, or seeking help. Fear of judgement from others can be a quite sensitive matter, especially with younger people. Clear information about the school’s methods and practices on preventing bullying, and providing a safe environment for students, should be easily obtained. If the school is failing to act effectively, people of the community need to know and do what they can in order to help the school form a safer and healthier environment for the children.

    Liked by 1 person

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