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Bullish Optimism

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After two days of orientation, school staffs ready plans to implement Olweus Bullying Prevention Program

By Vince Luecke

TELL CITY - Teachers, counselors and other school staff who devote their talents to educating and protecting children gained new insight and skills last month into a new program that will change how Tell City-Troy Township schools deal with an ages-old problem: bullying.

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Implementation of the Olweus (pronounced ol-vay-us) Bullying Prevention Program will begin at William Tell Elementary and Tell City Junior High schools this fall. More than two dozen people who are members of a coordinating committee took part in the March 12-13 training session at Evangelical United Church of Christ in Tell City.

Pam Larkey, a counselor at White Lick Elementary School in Brownsburg and an Olweus trainer, led elementary and middle-school faculty and support staff, parents and community representatives through the basics of the program.

Created by Norwegian researcher Dan Olweus and honed by educators, the program has been used around the world to reduce opportunities and rewards for bullying behaviors, improve peer relationships that make bullying less likely and to make schools safe and welcoming places for students to learn and develop.

Members of the coordinating committee will meet for the remainder of the school year to work out details of how the program will be implemented in their schools and will hold  a staff-wide training before the start of the school year. There will also be a public kickoff for parents and the community.

The committee will also work with Tell City High School staff on bullying-prevention efforts there.

Participants left the two days of training enthused about the program.

"Our training went fabulously. Yes, it was very intensive and there was a multitude of information given, but the result was even more buy-in from the core committee after learning the "nuts and bolts" of Olweus," said Sally Wolfe, a counselor at William Tell Elementary School. The remainder of the school year, she said, will bring weekly planning sessions on the implementation of the Olweus system as well as planning for a school-community kick-off with students in August.

Tell City-Troy Township schools have made bullying prevention a priority. Michael Dorn, one of the nation's leading school-safety experts, spoke in February  and an Olweus survey in December measured students' perceptions of atmospheres at the elementary and junior-high schools.

Wolfe said school administrators stand fully behind the program and will make Olweus implementation a priority.

"We are extremely fortunate that our administrators have allowed time for our core committee to meet weekly. It speaks volumes to know that our principals value Olweus enough to give us the time we need to develop our plan. The task ahead seems monumental, but very exciting."

Once classes begin in August, teachers will gather regularly with students for informal meetings to discuss bullying, its effects and ways students can identify, report and prevent incidents of bullying and help classmates being bullied.

One of the core principals of the Olweus system is to encourage students who might otherwise watch bullying happen to intervene on behalf of the bullied student. That solidarity, Larkey said, can be as simple as taking a step or two and standing next to a classmate being pushed or taunted.

Empowering bystanders is a key part of the program, Wolfe said, as is the consistency in encouraging students in all grades to get involved.

"The beauty of Olweus is the consistent approach by all staff as to how to deal with the bully, the victim, and the bystander. The bystander is a huge piece of a bullying incident because this is the area where many students fall. Students will be taught how to intervene with the expectation that they will indeed step in to help the student being bullied," she said. "This is a major change for our students and will not be accomplished overnight. It will take time, fidelity and consistency."

Bullies Suffer, Too

Studies show children who bully get into frequent fights, are more apt to steal and vandalize property, drink alcohol and smoke, are prone to be truant and drop out of school and lag in academic performance.

One Olweus study showed bullies were four times more likely to have three or more convictions by age 24. The program offers suggestions for dealing with students found bullying others. Teachers are encouraged to identify and describe what behaviors the offending student exhibits  and to label them as bullying.

Faculty, Support Staff

Involvement of classroom teachers is a major component of the Olweus system but support staff play important roles. Teachers will be encouraged to use role playing that exhibits what words and actions constitute bullying behaviors.

Because bullying often takes place out of the classroom, such as in hallways or gyms and on buses, other school employees, as well as bus drivers, have important roles to play in identifying bullying and sharing information with teachers, counselors and administrators.

Teachers, whose days are already packed, responded with enthusiasm to the program.

"As a classroom teacher, I feel that the training was great. I like that all employee groups from the school were included. Every employee within our school community will be trained through the Olweus program," elementary teacher Mary Jane Beckort said.  "Bus drivers, custodians, café workers and teaching assistants will be vital to the success of this program. They are an important part of our school and they see things that teachers and administrators do not see. Also, some of their areas are hot spots, or areas where bullying can often take place."

Beckort also likes the uniformity of the program, ensuring all students know anti-bullying rules.

"School should be a safe place for them. They are here to learn and it is our responsibility to provide a safe environment for them to grow. I think that the results of this program will be huge.  It will create a safer school for all students."

What is Bullying?

Olweus defines bullying as behavior that is aggressive, typically involves patterns of behavior that are repeated over time and takes place in situations when there is an imbalance of power or strength.

School bullying often brings to mind playground intimidation and bullying can be physical acts such as hitting, kicking and shoving, as well as name-calling, threats or obscene gestures. However, bullying can be indirect and involve spreading rumors, social isolation or cyber-bullying that takes place via e-mail or text messaging.

Learn More

Find information on the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program at www.olweus.org.