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 Districts 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
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
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 Districts 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
But it wasnt 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 communitys 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
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 schools 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.
Dysarts emphasis on using data to guide anti-bullying efforts includes
an annual survey which asks students where and when theyve seen bullying
in the past 2 months. Honne says that last years survey identified
school buses and bus stops as bullying hot spots. As a result, the
Districts Bullying Prevention Program started a bus monitoring program
in which parents ride buses and monitor bus stops to see what goes
Public Meeting Helped Increase Visibility of Bullying Issue
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
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 Dysarts schools is bright, Honne said.