The Learning Curve: Bowen Mental Health Center aides in anti-bullying advocacy efforts at Argos Community Schools

The Learning Curve: Bowen Mental Health Center aides in anti-bullying advocacy efforts at Argos Community Schools

ARGOS, Ind.—The Learning Curve team continues to tackle the conversation of bullying in school.

Last week, a student mentioned that having difficult conversations could help the program.

“We should probably get more information about bullying to kids and try stopping people from bullying when they’re younger so they don’t turn into a bully,” said 8th grader, Ioan Petz.

Advice educators took to heart with more resources being brought in to help.

“It always have been and always will be,” said Thomas Kinnaird.

Kinnaird is one of many staff members at the Bowen Mental Health Center in Marshall County.

As the criminal justice coordinator, anti-bullying advocate and expert, Kinnaird knows the topic inside and out, saying bullying isn’t new.

“There just always has been trauma, there always has been mistreatment of people,” said Kinnaird.

Imbalances of power are seen throughout history.

Incidents that have modernized and adapted over the years whether it be for what people believe or the color of their skin.

“Yeah, it will always be an issue,” said Kinnaird. “I mean ideally, no. But, you know, insofar as we can’t stop all bad things from happening to kids, there will always be issues for kids. Using that pain in unhealthy ways, when they come to places like school.”

While there isn’t a magic fix to bullying, there are resources outside of school that can give students and staff a new way to approach these situations.

“The Bowen Center is a Community Mental Health Organization, all over the northern third of Indiana, county offices all over the place. It provides therapy services and skills, coach services to individuals who are struggling with mental health with substance use struggles and things like that,” said Kinnaird.

Staff like Kinnaird work out of the Marshall County office, off of Illinois Street in Plymouth.

An available resource to both the public and schools alike.

“A lot of people who come to us come through referrals,” said Kinnaird. “So whether that’s schools or courts. But we have people come in all the time, who just are looking for assistance, looking for help of some sort.”

When Argos Community Schools needed a fresh take, Kinnaird answered.

“We have some things that pop up in the middle school level that are issues of bullying,” said Argos school counselor, Beth Schmeltz. “Picking on people, other things like that. It just seemed like an opportune time to have him [Thomas Kinnaird] come in and do these presentations.”

“So what I’m doing with bullying is trying to have the same approach with these middle schoolers, helping them understand that the bully, it’s not just an issue of he or she doesn’t like someone. There’s something going on in that bully’s life that has led them to this point of mistreating someone else,” said Kinnarid.

Kinnaird uses different kinds of visuals including videos and age specific examples to reach students where they’re at.

“If I want to help people with these very personal things that are going on in their lives, I need to start with that trust and relationship,” said Kinnaird.

Relationships that got students to listen up and apply his examples to their own lives.

“I learned that even though people are trying to hurt your feelings, they want to be rude to you, and they want to hurt your feelings,” said 8th grader, Sydney Lewark. “But you gotta brush it off and act like it didn’t even happen.”

“I learned that assault and battery are completely different from bullying, like they’re an actual crime,” said classmate Tommy Thompson.

“I learned that people bullying might not actually want to harm you, but get rid of their own harm,” said 8th grader, Ioan Petz.

A message that even gave new perspectives to school experts!

“Thomas talked about being calm and being kind and just to try and deescalate the situation,” said Schmeltz.

Situations Kinnaird realizes evolve and change everyday.

“I didn’t want anyone to feel like you know, hey, I’ve given you all the tools, you know, everything you need to know about bullying,” said Kinnaird. “It’s impossible.”

Because he effects of bullying are real.

“It causes depression, anxiety struggles in school, even things like thoughts of self harm or suicide,” said Kinnaird. “So the effects of bullying are visceral and felt and very necessary to address those things.”

And it’s important to remember all parties involved.

At the end of the day both the victim and the bully are just people who might need some extra care.

“I think it’s necessary to put a lot of focus on the victim at first to make sure they’re okay,” Said Kinnaird. “But oftentimes we forget about the bully and we just kind of toss them to the side, you know, they’re the bad kid. They’re the bully, we’re just going to send them to the principal’s office, were just going to get them in trouble to get them out of the picture. But if we really want to get to the root of what’s happening, we need to figure out what’s going on with him or her, what’s going on in their lives and how to help them address whatever’s going on in their world that’s brought them to that point of mistreating others.”

But what is possible and in our control?

Our Learning Curve team asked Kinnaird if he thinks there is a solution for bullying in schools?

“I do. I think it’s kindness,” said Kinnaird. “I think that has to be the starting point. It has to be the ending point. Starting with empathy and kindness and just finding a way to make our school safe for every person, student, teacher, aide, principal, everyone involved in the whole situation to make the school and the community a safer place for them.”

While the goal is kindness first, Kinnaird and school staff realize that is not usually a victim or bully’s first thought.

That’s why conversation like these are vital to the future.

If you have questions on bullying protocols you can always reach out to the school in question.

If you are hoping to start a conversation with someone through the Bowen Center, head to their website to see which location is closest to you.

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