Julie Hertzog is Director of PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center, which she helped create back in 2006, and where she has led the development of a variety of curricula and resources, including the creation of National Bullying Prevention Month. In 2012, Julie was appointed as a member and co-chair of Minnesota's Governor's Task Force on the Prevention of School Bullying. She has been quoted by media throughout the US, including CNN, NBC Nightly News, Time for Kids, and The Huffington Post. Julie earned her master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in 1994 and has worked extensively in the field of domestic abuse and child abuse.
Here are a few of the highlights from my conversation with Julie.
On her son David and the inspiration to found PACER’S National Bullying Prevention Center (2:12)
“David was born with Down syndrome, and he also had some very significant medical issues. He was a little boy who was medically fragile. He had three open-heart surgeries. He had a pacemaker, a feeding tube, some other really significant things. He was on a ventilator. And so, he was a child who just fought incredibly hard to survive, and it impacted our family a lot . . . when David was going in to kindergarten, I was looking at him and thinking, ‘Here is a child who is incredibly vulnerable. He doesn't talk. He is small in stature.’ He had some really obvious differences, and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I can't bear the thought of anybody ever being cruel to David, or teasing him because of those differences, especially knowing what a courageous little soul he is, just in surviving and living.’ So he really inspired my work around the topic of bullying, because I thought, ‘You know, if anybody deserves to be safe in our schools, it is my son.’”
On a paradigm shift from bullying as an accepted rite of passage (7:38)
“We are making a paradigm shift from bullying being this ‘accepted rite of childhood passage,’ or some of those other statements we have about it just being a natural part of growing up. You really have to start by saying, ‘Number one, this behavior is not accepted in our school.’ And giving the behavior a name, too, so the kids can understand exactly what ‘bullying’ is. And then from there, what we want to do is build schools that have a culture of respect, and empathy, and understanding, and inclusion.”
What if kids could stand up to bullying behavior? (11:32)
“Kids who are bullied and are going through school right now are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression. And they also don't want to go to school. They simply don't want to go to school. You can imagine, as an adult, we have all had those experiences in the workplace with that person has who just made our lives miserable. Well, imagine as a kid, going through that every day and no one helping you. That’s the impact. And if kids could stand up to that person bullying them, they would. They absolutely would, but bullying is about an imbalance of power. The kids who are doing the bullying are finding that vulnerable person who is not able to defend against the behavior.”
On founding National Bullying Prevention Month at PACER (15:25)
“We, as an organization, I would say we’re risk-takers. We also like to push conversations forward, and we felt that the way you can do that is to create an awareness-raising event. So in 2006, we started at a week, and there was such tremendous interest in it, and such tremendous support from people like National PTA, National Education Association, and other organizations, as well as just the community in general wanted to have this topic, wanted to bring it in to the schools. And so, in 2010 we expanded it to be the month of October. We purposely chose October because it was early in the school year. So we wanted to make sure that the conversation was jump-started so it would continue throughout the year. Then we just continued to expand on opportunities and resources for schools to get involved."