School believes issue is under control
'OUR AIM is to have Gorey Community School a bully-free zone, and we work hard to prevent bullying.'
It's no small ambition for Ireland's largest secondary school, but Principal Michael Finn believes they have the issue under control. 'I don't feel it's widespread in the school,' he said. 'We are quite strong on bullying here.'
Gorey Community School's anti-bullying policy is available on its website for all to see, and is currently being reviewed and updated. Having such a policy is one thing, but it's how the spirit of the policy is put into action is what helps prevent the problem from arising.
For instance, Michael said, the upcoming 'Friendship Week' in March is an anti-bullying week, but with a focus on positives. 'It looks at areas of general bullying and addresses issues such as racism and homophobia,' he said.
During the week, regular classes for first, second, and third year students will include lessons particularly focusing on some aspect of anti-bullying. Speakers will also be invited in to speak to student groups, giving information on where to go for help and support if they are experiencing bullying.
Lunchtime activities will include music concerts and activities to promote the importance of friendship and supporting each other. 'The week will celebrate inclusivity and diversity,' said teacher Anne Marie Whelan. 'We'll have lessons on labels and stereotypes and on building healthy relationships and successful friendships.'
'Activities will be student-led during lunchtime,' she added. 'We will share a coping strategy for good mental health each day. As the biggest school in Ireland, we are building on our reputation for diversity.' Also during the week, former Mountjoy Governor John Lonergan will give a talk to staff, and other speakers are planned for the students.
Even before the school year begins, during Induction Week for first year students, modules are given on topics such as 'making friends' and 'anti-bullying.'
'Bullying is also addressed in the first year SPHE classes,' said Mr. Finn.
He agreed that cyber bullying has become more of an issue in recent years, and with the help of Wexford Local Development, the school organised a meeting for parents to discuss the problem, with information on what signs to look for, and how to support children affected by it.
Vigilance by staff and students also plays a major role in preventing bullying. 'If we identify students who are having difficulties, we run certain programmes in the school for a few weeks,' said Mr. Finn. 'One programme is called "Friends for Life" which we run with groups of targeted students.'
He said that if they find any students engaging in behaviour that could be considered to be bullying behaviour, very often it can be addressed simply by speaking to the student.
The school also runs a Meitheal Programme through the Wexford Meitheal Alliance, where Transition Year students apply to become Mentors during Fifth Year to First Year students. They are then trained in July to become Mentors throughout the year. However, the funding for this programme is now under threat, but Michael said that even if the funding it withdrawn, the programme will continue at the school because it has been so successful.