Bullying expert shares personal experiences

Friday, July 10, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Thomas Brown can still remember the pain he felt after sitting on carpet tacks during a dodgeball game he played in gym class while in junior high, an incident of bullying his parents still don't know about.

Brown shared some of his personal experiences during a presentation he gave called “Tears on the Highway”on Thursday at the Holiday Inn Select and Expo Center. Thursday was the the third and final day of the Missouri Association for Pupil Transportation conference which was held to educate school bus drivers and administrators about school violence.

The theme for the conference was "Crossing the Finish Line Safely."

Brown, who has been educating people about bullies for nearly 20 years, has written and directed numerous movies about school violence as well. He considers himself an “awareness tool” when it comes to bullying.

Brown’s bullying began in sixth grade when he was called “Goodyear Blimp,” and it escalated throughout middle school and into high school.

By ninth grade Brown said he was going to school "like a ghost" — struggling with thoughts of suicide. But in his senior year — after dropping out and taking his junior year over, starting an underground newspaper and finally found something to feel good about — the bullying stopped.

Brown said the biggest mistake he made was not telling his parents about his problems with bullies in the beginning. His parents have never seen his program.

After Brown shared his own experiences, some of the session attendees shared their memories of bullies.

“It’s been around forever and it’s not going away,” Brown said. “Children cannot learn if they’re afraid to go to school.”

About 200,000 kids every day admit to missing school because they’re afraid to go, Brown said.

He said he thinks the bus ride to school sets up the day and schools need to figure out a way for drivers to get the same respect as teachers. He said he has realized "how much this industry cares about kids."

Session attendees discussed how bus cameras and seat belts or lack of either affect bullying. Some at the event felt that bus cameras helped prevent situations where one child's word is against another. While seat belts could help keep students in their seat, attendees also saw them as another weapon for bullies.

The session also discussed how new kinds of bullying, such as texting, Internet gossip and hazing, affect students.

Another session addressed how to prevent violence. Bret Brooks, a member of the Missouri State High Patrol, works as a senior trainer for Gray Ram Tactical, LLC, an organization focused on instructing administrators and educators on "how to protect their students from any threat," according to their Web site.

"We will always have violence, but we must be prepared," Brooks said.

In his session, Brooks addressed three main kinds of violence: student on student, student on adult, and outside violence, including child abductions. He suggested drivers maintain awareness so that action can be taken ahead of time, and went over some possible indicators of violence, such as keeping one's chin down or making eye contact for more than 60 seconds.

Brooks also discussed the most common weapons among school-age kids and indicators that a kid may be carrying a weapon. The most common weapons are body parts, such as arms, legs and the head. The second most common are books and backpacks.

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