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Local Parks and Recreation Office Works to Prevent Bullying in Their DC Community

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Natasha Herring, a manager with D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), recently got involved with StopBullying.gov when she identified a unique need to address bullying in her local parks and facilities. The post below reflects her story on how D.C. Parks and Recreation is taking action to prevent bullying.

It’s pool time at the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR). Thousands of kids are dropping in to cool off and enjoy the company of staff and friends at aquatic centers in their neighborhoods.

DPR leaders, coaches, staff and volunteers organize activities designed to be positive and enriching experiences for our children. They form close relationships with kids, from teaching them how to swim to guiding their progress for years on sports leagues and park outings. Many become mentors — big brothers and big sisters — to area children. Kids know that our staff and volunteers are willing to listen and understand their fears and limitations, and will encourage them to meet every challenge. We play a vital role in the lives of many.

While our staff and volunteers know the hazards of their program environments, and are well-versed in promoting safe play and good sportsmanship, they may not always recognize bullying.

In the past few years, we noticed a rise in “incidents” — arguments and fights between kids at our recreational facilities, such as DPR’s aquatic centers. We conducted focus groups in a variety of neighborhood centers to assess possible causes and remedies, and learned that many of the incidents were not accidental, but involved bullying by youth who wanted to harm or intimidate others. We realized immediately that we had to take action so that all staff, volunteers and children felt safe from bullying in our facilities.

What We Are Doing to Prevent Bullying?

As a first step, we knew we had to create an overarching policy that prohibits bullying among youth, and one that every DPR facility and program could tailor to meet their unique circumstances.

We turned to StopBullying.gov and attended a recent Institute of Medicine two-day workshop on bullying prevention that was commissioned by the Health Resources and Services Administration to inform the process. We came away with much more than we imagined; learning the science behind the issue makes you aware of the many physiological, psychological and social factors in a child’s life that increase the likelihood of bullying and magnify its effects. Besides creating safe environments free of bullying, we can assist in community-wide approaches, possibly by instructing and mentoring kids in positive ways to interact with their peers.  

Of course a “no bullying” rule by itself will not solve the problem. It will take time and a commitment of resources to equip staff with the knowledge and skills needed to detect and prevent it. We are just beginning to identify issues inherent to parks and recreation programs that could assist or hinder these prevention efforts. To mention a few:

  • Bullying risks may be higher in recreation programs where there are large groups of children with wide age ranges.   
  • Forming close, trusting relationships between the staff, volunteers and children can be challenging in an environment where people participate at different rates.
  • Recreational settings give children a chance to learn a skill together which can have a positive socializing effect and help form new friendships, even for kids who tend to be socially isolated.   
  • High school seniors coming to neighborhood centers could provide structured activities to instruct young children about bullying, its effects, and how to be allies to someone who is bullied.

What First Step Can You Take?

Visit the Stopbullying.gov Training Center and the resources listed in the parks and recreation user guide, “Understanding the Roles of Recreation Leaders in Community-Wide Bullying Prevention Efforts” to learn more about bullying prevention. 

It’s our job as recreation leaders to make sure kids feel safe. This policy and additional training will help ensure that each and every child that participates in a DPR activity will hold only fond memories of the fun things they did over the summer. Now, let’s all go to the pool!