A Voice of Reason on Behalf of All Children
Friday, October 02, 2009
by Rochelle Leiber-Miller, President, School Social Work Association of America
The U.S. Department of Education has a critically important staff member in Kevin Jennings, Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools (OSDFS). The School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA) has been fortunate to have a longstanding relationship with Kevin through his work in supporting the safety and well-being of every student who walks through the schoolhouse door.
Much has been written about the continuing achievement gaps in American schools. However, little attention has been given to the fact that bullying and harassment contribute significantly to low academic achievement, chronic truancy, mental health and behavioral challenges, and high dropout rates. School social workers have a long and successful history of intervening on behalf of and supporting students who are bullied, harassed, and excluded. They also work directly with students who bully to assist them to develop positive social skills and to decrease bullying behaviors. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, as many as half of all children are bullied at some time during their school years, and at least 10% are bullied on a regular basis. Children who are bullied experience real suffering that can interfere with their social and emotional development, as well as their school performance. Tragically, some victims of bullying have chosen to end their lives by suicide rather than continue to endure such harassment and punishment. Simply put, when the learning environment is not safe, learning cannot happen.
Kevin Jennings is devoted to improving the school climate and making schools safe and nurturing environments for learning and growth. He applies this devotion to all students, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or station in life. He has focused his attentions on bullying prevention and awareness as the cornerstone of his work at OSDFS. School social workers applaud and support these efforts to change this serious impediment to the learning process. Kevin's efforts will help reduce barriers to learning, so students who have been the victims of bullying can feel safe and attend school ready to learn, as well as ensuring the students who bully receive the assistance they need to change those behaviors.
Having had a close collaboration with Kevin in his role as Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), SSWAA members are excited about having him in a leadership capacity at the Department of Education. We believe his appointment is a great step forward toward creating a positive climate for learning for every American child.