Interview with School Superintendent Jason Bing, Part 1: Bullying
In his new position as Bloomfield School Superintendent, Bing discusses new ways to cope with an age-old problem
Monday, October 3, marks the first day of “Week of Respect” at all Bloomfield public schools. The weeklong bullying awareness initiative coincides with a state-mandated adoption of the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” at all NJ schools, signed into law by Governor Christie last January. But as far as School Superintendent Jason Bing is concerned, the “Week of Respect” at Bloomfield public schools is not so much a legislative mandate as an extension of his own personal philosophy towards education.
“The subject of bullying was my doctorate thesis,” said Bing candidly, leaning back in his office chair on a recent September morning. He said his message to students is to learn to be “upstanders rather than bystanders” and to practice kindness and good communication skills.
“A lot of kids have trouble expressing themselves,” he noted. “We [educators] practice modeling behavior, learning how to say something is wrong. We have peer groups that learn from each other. Being able to identify emotions, communicate and build empathy in kids [is key.]”
Bing added, “Silence is deadly. Even when the majority of people have that sick feeling in their stomachs [they don’t act.] Silence is acceptance.”
According to Bing, the school system already has in place a program originated by Rutgers University that uses a whole-child approach to develop social emotional skills.
The Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab (RU-SELL) program currently being implemented in Bloomfield schools utilizes “school-based interventions to strengthen social-emotion skills, character, and one’s Laws of Life, and prevent bullying, violence and victimization, substance abuse, and related problem behaviors.”
The goal, as stated on the RU-SELL website, is “to understand the relationship of academic achievement, social-emotion competencies, and the development of character and a core set of life principles.”
Bing explains what that means for Bloomfield public school students.
“You have to get emotional buy-in with kids,” he says. In the past he has brought his own therapy dog, a rescued Boston Terrier named Magnum Force, to school assemblies to show children the emotional effects of bullying.
“I talk to students about how he was abused,” says Bing. “I say, ‘would you hit him?’ ‘Would you not talk to him?’ They say, 'Of course not.' I say, ‘If you saw someone being mean to him, would you do something to step up and help him?’ "
In the coming months, Bing plans to add another component to the anti-bullying message at Bloomfield schools. A workshop called “Rachel’s Challenge,” named after the first person killed in the Columbine School shootings, is a motivational presentation designed to inspire acts of kindness and compassion in groups of people.
“It’s a powerful program,” said Bing. “They challenge students to be kind. To start a chain of kindness.”
Bing, who took up his post as School Superintendent last May, is adamant about addressing the issue of bullying head-on. In recent years bullying become more prevalent, he believes, because society's emphasis on technology has resulted in a loss of communication skills, especially among children. Though the recent legislation mandates action on the part of schools, he maintains that responsible educators have been grappling with the issue for a long time.
“Bullying used to stop when you left school. Not now. Now, because of cyberbullying, it’s a 24-7 thing. I believe it’s a school’s responsibility to help.
“People think being bullied is a rite of passage. No,” he says emphatically. “No kid should have to go into school and be abused. If a kid doesn’t feel safe they’re not going to learn."