Cyberbullying program for distance education students at Dolly Everett’s former school – ABC Rural
A distance education school has created its first transitioning to boarding school program with a focus on cyberbullying, almost a year since the passing of one of its students, Amy ‘Dolly’ Everett.
Initiated by Mount Isa School of the Air, the Tips of Transitioning program aims to teach students how to adjust from remote schooling in isolation to being in physical classrooms of up to twenty or more peers.
Kimberly Wilson and her 12-year-old daughter Kadence live on Rutchillo Station, a remote cattle farm over 30 kilometres from Julia Creek in North West Queensland.
With no trees, landmarks, or major city within an hour’s drive, Kadence has used School of the Air for her education but is about to move 1,500km to a Toowoomba boarding school.
However, both mother and daughter’s greatest fear for the new year is the potential of cyberbullying in the wake of the tragedy of Dolly’s death.
Ms Wilson said Dolly’s passing was a massive wake-up call and highlighted a lack of guidance for distance education students about peer communication.
“The staff have to be really commended for how swiftly they’ve reacted to this.”
Surrounded by students a scary idea
Distance education students face different challenges when they enter boarding school due to having had a lack of physical interaction with children their own age.
Something as simple as putting their hand up in class and becoming the centre of attention can turn into an anxious nightmare for students who have never been surrounded by classmates.
“Whereas when they get down to boarding school, every child will turn around and look at you.”
Along with physical challenges, isolated students often struggle with communication undertones such as sarcasm and childish humour.
“Our kids live in a very adult, real world. Some of those things pass them by and they really struggle when a child is chucking off at them,” Ms Wilson said.
Kadence usually speaks to her friends through letters or when they are together at camp drafts.
She rarely uses online communication and her lack of experience has increased her fears about cyberbullying.
Most of Kadence’s experiences with bullying has been as a bystander or from state school students in town.
“My handle on it was that I didn’t know the full story, so what is my judgement?”
Although reluctant about the 1,500-kilometre move to boarding school, Kadence believes students need to be there for each other or else, “what’s the point?”.
“We can’t turn into the bully that we fear,” she said.
A first for School of the Air
Nikki Barlow is the acting principal at Mount Isa School of the Air and one of the creators of the new program.
Ms Barlow said social interactions on the internet needed to be explicitly taught before students moved to boarding school.
As part of a focus on student health and wellbeing currently in the Queensland curriculum, Mount Isa School of the Air identified the missing skills required by students and parents transitioning to physical schooling.
The program is offered online to students and is accompanied by an activity book given to families.
The school organised a meet-up day with parents to discuss online bullying and cyber safety for their children ahead of moving to boarding school next year.
“Our families can be linked to existing families where they can strike up conversations at their own personal level,” Ms Barlow said.
Currently inside Mount Isa School of the Air students encounter very rare instances of bullying, but unkind behaviour does occur from time to time.
Ms Barlow said the occasions are not persistent and are not deemed to be under the “bullying” label.
“In that respect, it’s about teaching students about identifying that that instance [of unkind behaviour] had an affect on others and talking about ways to avoid those behaviours in the future,” she said.
Ms Barlow said Dolly is very close to the hearts of everyone at the school.