When a kindergarten student at her tae kwon do studio suffered a slight concussion after he was pushed down the stairs and then picked up and rammed against a pole at school, Maria Pino wished she would have taught her youngest students about bullies sooner.
"Everybody was just beside themselves another 5-year-old would do this," said Pino, owner of Quest ATA Martial Arts.
Although she already had planned to take the bullying-prevention training, the incident reminded her why the certification was necessary.
Quest ATA Martial Arts, 6020 W. Flamingo Road, Suite 6, is now certified in OLWEUS, a global bullying prevention program, and will begin integrating the material into its courses before the school year starts, Pino said. While self-defense and anti-bullying strategies always have been a part of the curriculum, she said her recent certification has prepared her for an era in which kids as young as kindergartners face violence from their peers.
"You really have to make the kids more aware of what could happen," Pino said. "It's really a shame that it gets that way now."
Pino decided to get certified in bullying prevention because the issue has progressed beyond seemingly harmless taunting or pushing on the playground to real violence, Pino said, pointing out that some cases have even warranted national media attention.
Recent media reports include stories of a second-grader in Canada who suffered several bouts of violence, including one instance of his head being pushed into a toilet that bruised his windpipe, and a 4-year-old girl in Milwaukee who endured repeated punches that broke her glasses twice on the bus.
But the threats of violence can extend to even deeper psychological wounds from cyberbullying that can include vicious threatening or posting embarrassing photos online, experts say.
Last year, an 18-year-old Rutgers University student killed himself after his roommate secretly filmed his homosexual encounter and posted it online. In March, a 16-year-old in Maine almost died after Facebook threats escalated to a real-life beating that left him with a fractured skull. Many of these cases were reported to parents or school administrators before the tormenting turned violent or deadly, but calls for help were ignored or answered too late.
In Nevada, all public schools are required to provide bullying prevention policies, according to a 2009 statute.
But many say these previous cases show that policies aren't enough.
Martial arts adds an extra layer of self-defense skills, leadership and confidence for kids while also including parents in the discussion about bullies, Quest ATA instructors said.
The old mind-set that bullying is just "kids being kids" needs to change as children often give up on asking an adult for help after being told the problem will "just go away," Pino said of the issue that affects at least one in every four kids.
"It doesn't just go away," said Pino, who also hopes to eventually present her program at local schools.
Second-degree black belt Mary McDonough said she knows first hand how martial arts can help victims.
"I was always the short, little shy kid with red hair and freckles, the science nerd," the 15-year-old said of what made her the center of teasing and pranks. "Martial arts made me realize not all kids are mean. It improved my confidence, which deters bullies, too."
Mary started learning anti-bullying tactics at Quest ATA when she began taking lessons at age 8. Now an assistant instructor, she is preparing to teach others an extended version of those skills with the new curriculum.
The bullying prevention program is set to teach kids as young as 3 how to deal with different bullying types, whether it be name calling, violence or threats via the Internet. Advice, such as carrying a backpack with your weaker hand so the strong part of your body is free for self-defense, are little tips Pino hopes to arm more students with. The program would also instill that the voice can be the strongest weapon in attracting help or an end to peer violence. Students would also learn when it's necessary to fight back and be prepared to hit at the weakest point of an attacker's body, while yelling, "Stop, stop. Get away from me," and then running to safety.
"Martial arts is not about kicking and punching or creating bullies," Pino said of a misconception about the sport. "It's quite the opposite."
Contact Southwest and Spring Valley View reporter Jessica Fryman at email@example.com or 380-4535.