Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin on Thursday told participants in a community meeting that school policies must adjust to the dangers of bullying.
Nowlin, whose granddaughter took her own life, spoke to about 70 concerned parents, teachers, school officials, counselors and students who gathered at the Cortez Recreation Center to discuss suicide prevention and the problem of bullying.
“Apparently it did not happen soon enough, but there will be changes, and I will see to it because this cannot happen again,” said Nowlin. “I lost my best friend, and I don’t want you to lose yours.”
He said the Sheriff’s Office will help lead the way to help prevent bullying. He suggested more classes concerning youth behavior and coping skills, and more parent participation in the schools “every day, not just during special events. We all need to step up.”
Awareness of a problemMarinda Harrison, organizer of the Four Corners Bully Prevention Forum, put on the event in response to two recent juvenile suicides in Cortez and Dolores. The goal is to bring awareness, promote solutions and identify youth programs already in place, she said.
“The reason for this meeting is to build ties, figure out what programs we have and make them bigger and better,” Harrison said.
Dozens of parents and students gave personal accounts of being bullied or knowing someone who took their own life.
Heather Nowlin said bullying played a role in the death of her daughter, Alana Dawn Nowlin.
“She’s not here because of bullying, and as a community we need to stick together to help our children. We need to work better with the schools and give students the emotional tools to handle situations like bullying,” she said.
A family friend said “much older” children bullied Alana. And the child’s grandmother, Kathryn Nowlin, said the family was aware of some bullying but “did not know how bad it had become.”
“I am still in shock,” she said, “and am here because I want to do something about it so no family has to go through what we are going through.”
Teach kids to be strongStudents need to learn respectful behavior and how to stand up for themselves, said Sheila Wheeler, of the Tree House Learning Center in Cortez.
“I was bullied as a child until given permission to take care of myself, not back down, and become less vulnerable,” she said. “Kids need strong advocates that give them strength to tell people to leave them alone.”
Another parent said her child was being bullied at a Cortez school, and she regretted not knowing that it could lead to suicide.
“My daughter has been bullied since the eighth grade. I can’t get it to stop, and I don’t know what to do,” said another parent. “I’d like to learn the parenting skills to teach them how to handle those situations.”
Parents also expressed frustration with communication with their children, a lack of activities for children, bullying on social media, and what schools can do about reports of bullying.
Since 2014, Dolores has had a deputy in its schools to promote safety and communication. Deputy David Van Bibber is stationed at Dolores schools every day, and reports to the sheriff’s office, which pays for the position.
Still, officials face a disconnect between parents and children. Nowlin attributed some of that to misuse of social media.
“It’s one of the biggest problems we have,” Nowlin said. “It is different for kids today than when we grew up. Parents need to know what their kids are doing all the time and be ready to help and intervene.”