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Arizona School District Works To Make Students Feel Safer by Preventing Bullying

“Plenty of people believe that bullying is part of growing up,” said Kathleen Honne, the project coordinator for the local Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) initiative in Dysart, AZ, a suburb of Phoenix.

But Honne, along with her colleagues in the Dysart Unified School District 89, recently set out to change this perception and do something about bullying in their District’s schools.

As part of the initiative made possible by an SS/HS grant awarded in 2001, the School District implemented the evidence-based bullying prevention program developed by Norwegian educator and researcher Dan Olweus.

The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program is popular among the local SS/HS initiatives because it has been proven to be effective in reducing bullying. Using a schoolwide approach, the program involves students and teachers as well as other school staff members and parents in the activities and interventions designed to reduce bullying.

Bullying Prevention Ensures Students Feel Safe

Photo: Child sitting alone Preventing bullying to ensure students feel safe at school is one of the goals of the Federal SS/HS grant program. Not only does bullying hinder the learning of students in school, but it also can lead to additional problems down the road. Olweus and his research team found that children and youths who bully have an increased chance of committing crimes as adults, while youngsters who are bullied are more likely to run into emotional and academic problems later in life.

When Dysart began its SS/HS initiative, bullying was already a live issue. The community advisory teams in the District’s K-8 schools had identified bullying as a concern of both parents and school personnel. The SS/HS grant meant the schools could tackle the bullying problem head on.

But it wasn’t easy at first. According to Honne, many adults in the community believed bullying is all part of growing up. They did not believe bullying was a serious problem in their community’s schools.

Training from an Olweus certified trainer in November 2002 provided the springboard for implementing the Olweus program. Teams from four schools received training and developed bullying prevention plans for their schools.

“Create An Environment Where Bullying Is Not Tolerated”

Photo: Children in class room “The idea is to create an environment where bullying is not tolerated,” said Honne. Key elements include treating people with respect, setting high expectations, teaching bystanders not to remain silent, identifying and reporting bullying, taking appropriate action, and recruiting parents to help.

Each 10-person team typically meets weekly and is led by a Bullying Prevention Program coordinator. Each school’s plan is a bit different, Honne said, but they all have to set up a system to keep track of bullying incidents. Information includes when, where, and who (bullies, victims, and bystanders). As information accumulates, the school team looks for patterns.

Participating schools use a curriculum from the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program to make students more aware of bullying and to teach lessons such as how to help and the difference between telling and tattling.

Honne says that teachers may at first see the bullying curriculum as more work. She notes, however, that the curriculum can be integrated into academic lessons and pays off in fewer discipline problems.

Victims of repeated bullying are helped through support groups. They get a chance to vent, to recognize that bullying happens to others, and to learn how to combat the problem. Bullies are counseled individually. Instead of being kicked out of school under a classic zero tolerance policy, they face consequences such as community service.

Dysart’s emphasis on using data to guide anti-bullying efforts includes an annual survey which asks students where and when they’ve seen bullying in the past 2 months. Honne says that last year’s survey identified school buses and bus stops as bullying hot spots. As a result, the District’s Bullying Prevention Program started a bus monitoring program in which parents ride buses and monitor bus stops to see what goes on.

Public Meeting Helped Increase Visibility of Bullying Issue

Photo: Children joining hands In June 2003, Dysart held its first anti-bullying town hall meeting. About 60 people showed up, many of them parents whose kids had been bullied. They were worried about school safety and wanted to know what the schools were doing about bullying. In addition to addressing parents’ concerns about bullying, the meeting helped to bring increased visibility to the bullying issue.

Honne wants to keep the ball rolling with another town hall meeting this school year. To increase attendance and broaden the discussion, she will encourage parents to bring children. She also plans to invite parents whose children have been bullies.

Looking ahead, Dysart will use the student surveys and the data collected at each school to track progress and adjust strategy. Plans also call for bringing more schools on board, Honne said.

The original training that Dysart got from an Olweus trainer enabled the District to train additional personnel. Honne recognizes that schools may be reluctant to make personnel available for 2 days of training. Still, she is confident that concerns about bullying and enthusiasm for the program's results will be powerful recruitment tools.

Honne adds that the Bullying Prevention Program will be sustainable as it becomes part of the schools’ culture and ongoing operations. Continuation also will be boosted by partnerships in the community. Such relationships are already starting to sprout.

A local church offered to help after students in its congregation were bullied, and Cox Communications, a local marketing communications agency, helped put on the initial town hall meeting.

Overall, the Dysart Unified School District's bullying prevention effort is off to a good start made possible by the SS/HS grant. The outlook for expanding and making the Bullying Prevention Program a permanent fixture in Dysart’s schools is bright, Honne said.

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Last Updated on 1/27/2015